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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (****)
directed by Peter Jackson
written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro, from the book by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Principal Cast
Ian McKellen -- Gandalf
Martin Freeman -- Bilbo
Richard Armitage -- Thorin
Ken Stott -- Balin
Graham McTavish -- Dwalin
William Kircher -- Bifur / Tom Troll
James Nesbitt -- Bofur
Stephen Hunter -- Bombur
Dean O'Gorman -- Fili
Aidan Turner -- Kili
Ratings
Ratings are based on Rick's four star system.
One star - the commercials are more entertaining than the viewing.
Two stars - watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars - good solid entertainment.
Four stars - you never dreamed viewing could be this good.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rick Norwood

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The Hobbit is good enough to rate four stars and is still disappointing. My expectations were too high.

I'll begin with the bad and then move on to the good, but I had better disclose that The Hobbit is easily one of my ten favorite books of all time, up there with Robert A. Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy, Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility, Alfred Bester's The Demolished Man, E.M. Forster's A Room With a View, T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Rudyard Kipling's The Just-So Stories, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

The worst thing in the film is the brief bathroom humor, which is totally out of place. I understand that if a film gets a G rating, it loses some percentage of its audience, so bathroom humor is a commercial necessity. I still hate it here. I have no objection to bathroom humor in an Adam Sandler movie, but it does not belong in The Hobbit.

I am saddened by Peter Jackson's decision to make the villains repulsive. Tolkien's villains are often monsters, but never repulsive. Some monsters are beautiful.

Which brings us to the dragon Smaug. I applaud Jackson's decision never to show Smaug in this film, only his shadow or a flash of his tail, but this puts all the more pressure on Jackson to do justice to Smaug in the next Hobbit film, and I doubt he can pull it off. Tolkien's painting of Smaug is too good to be captured on film.

My feelings about the big battles that take up much of the film are more ambiguous. The Hobbit is a story of character and setting. Peter Jackson's film is a thrill ride. I know that movies are not novels, and that a charming film of The Hobbit would not sell as many tickets as an action adventure film. The action is very well done. The scenes in the goblin cave are more like a Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon than anything else, and that is high praise indeed. But I would like a charming film of The Hobbit better.

The movie introduces a major villain, the orc Azog, who in the book The Hobbit is mentioned only once. In the mythos he is killed in Moria long before Bilbo is born. I can accept the need for a villain. But I think (and talking to friends I am not alone in thinking) that the climax of this first film of this trilogy would have been much stronger had Azog been killed.

The best thing in the film is Bilbo Baggins, whose character is totally believable. This alone is a difficult and worthy feat that warrants four stars. Gandalf also is very good.

I like the use of many characters and actors from the Lord of the Rings films in the introduction to this film. I had misgivings about the use of Radaghast the Brown in the story, but wound up liking it. It sits well in memory. Saruman the White is also in the movie but not in the book.

Gandalf pretends not to remember the names of the other two wizards, and to be sure their names were never published in Tolkien's lifetime, but do appear in Unfinished Tales. They are Alatar and Pallando.

Copyright © 2013 Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon. Visit his web site at comicsrevue.com.


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