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‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ – Something felt off

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The prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, set sixty years before Frodo’s epic journey with Uncle Bilbo going off on his own adventure with a company of thirteen Dwarves to reclaim their homelands.

Although a prequel to the amazing LOTR trilogy, expecting The Hobbit to be anything like them will only lead to disappointment. I would know considering this is exactly how I felt. As a big fan of the LOTR movie trilogy, I was unexpected by how different this movie felt compared to the trilogy that came before. The Hobbit seemed watered down from the dark and gritty atmosphere of the Lord of the Rings and would’ve found it hard to believe that The Hobbit’s Middle Earth isn’t the same Middle Earth of LOTR if not for iconic places such as the Shire and Rivendell and familiar faces such as Gandalf, Elrond and Galadriel. However I should recognise that the world can change a lot in the span of sixty years but overall something did feel ‘off’ about The Hobbit.

From the band of singing dwarves performing tricks with kitchenware, tossing them around Bilbo’s hobbit hole without breaking a single plate to Gandalf pulling off a whole bunch of magic tricks from his grey hat, these were among some of the issues I experienced upon my first viewing of The Hobbit.

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The dwarves were among the first things that bothered me. As a person unfamiliar to the books, the only material that I could refer to how dwarves would be like in the world of Middle Earth was through Gimli. In the Lord of the Rings, Gimli was undoubtedly a dwarf in my eyes, from his mannerisms, his voice, the way he ran and most importantly how he looked. One of Gimli’s prominent features was his beard that could very well rival Gandalf’s. To me, Gimli was a perfect model of how I believed most dwarves would be and look like. Looking at the thirteen dwarves, I noticed the severe lack of long beards! Thorin the leader for example didn’t really have one while Gloin and Balin probably had the only decent ones. A few of the other dwarves developed a taste for braids and weird hairstyles for their facial hair.  Oin for example thought it would be cool to make a pretzel beard and I have no idea why Bombur would want a giant necklace made out of his own hair. I am unaware if this how Tolkien wanted the dwarves to be portrayed but I personally felt these features were very undwarvish. The gimmicky beards felt really childish and silly.

In combination to this was the fact that the dwarves were quite skilled with juggling plates with their feet and various parts of their body much like how soccer players juggle balls. Returning to the original dwarf image of Gimli who was portrayed dwarves as very stout fellows who were quite stiff in their movements suggests that the very notion of dwarves demonstrating such a degree of flexibility and free movement to juggle plates seemed very unbelievable. The behaviour just seemed very unlikely and uncharacteristic for dwarves that perhaps could only be explained if the dwarves joined a circus and developed those skills.
The fact that some of the voices of the dwarves didn’t sound coarse and ruggish enough to sound like the dwarves that were always enjoying drinks and yelling over one another. I kind of expected a sense of maturity in the voice’s of all the dwarves – stout warriors who wish to reclaim their homeland. Instead I felt like there were some imposters in the company who were gnomes that were just trying to impersonate being dwarves.

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Perhaps it is unfair of me to pass such judgement of the thirteen dwarves in the Hobbit by comparing them to Gimli considering that Gimli was such a fine dwarf that stood well on his own in the trilogy. Maybe my expectations were too high and that even if the dwarves were presented more dwarf-like I would still find something to pick on such as complaining about how the dwarves all look the same and  act like Gimli or complain about how i can’t distinguish them because they’re all covered in so much hair. Perhaps the outlandish beard-styles of some of the dwarves were a way to allow the audience including myself to easily identify some of the dwarves. I admit it actually does help that each dwarf is distinguishable from one another and that I can recognise which dwarf is which. However I cannot explain their plate juggling skills other than the possibility the dwarves may have worked in a circus for money after losing Erabor.

The world of Middle Earth also felt ‘off’ in that the world seemed too saturated. The world seemed much more colorful and brighter than I expected. The first scenes revealing the town of Dale and dwarven city of Erabor panned across various buildings that seemed extremely fake. Everything looked too clean and objects appeared too smooth that gave screamed FAKE! I also felt there were a lack of shadows in places that were meant to have them and the fact that the everything seemed so shiny like it was being lit by a thousand suns (and im not talking about the piles of gold and jewels stocked up in Erabor). I’m talking about buildings made out of stone/concrete or whatever that were basically shining like silver. It made the town seemed very plastic. However to be fair, perhaps this was a side effect of the 48fps and 3D that I was watching the movie in and perhaps my eyes weren’t adjusted to it yet (considering this was the opening to the film). As a matter of fact I didn’t have this problem with Rivendell which i thought was quite majestic and beautiful. It looked like Rivendell was in its glory days if compared to LOTR Rivendell. For the most part, the 48fps and 3D gave a lot of depth to various scenes showing off the amazing New Zealand landscapes. I am uncertain of how much these two factors made a difference to the mentioned problem until I view this movie again in regular cinema style – 24fps and no 3D.

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Another thing in The Hobbit that felt extremely off to me were the goblins. From what I have heard, Peter Jackson moved from an emphasis on prosthetics for a larger involvment of CGI.  I thought the new depiction for the goblins as pale skinned and fairly clean was extremely strange. I mean for Goblins, their skin looked extremely clean considering their possible working conditions in a mountain. They also seemed less threatening and more child-friendly than the goblins from LOTR. However from a realistic standpoint,  a creature that lives underground is more than likely to have pale skin given its lack of exposure to the sun. It is possible that the dwarves seen in The Hobbit are a different breed/species of Goblin than those that invaded Moria and the skin colour is suggestive of their ‘difference’.

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The final thing felt odd was Gandalf’s involvement in this quest to aid the dwarves reclaim Erebor. Not so his involvement but rather the use of magic in The Hobbit. Gandalf used his magical abilities excessively in this movie –  setting several pinecones on fire to be used as fireballs, summoning eagles, force blast knocking out everyone in the area, breaking a boulder with his staff and the fact he basically teleported into the heart of the Goblin King’s domain. I mean, Gandalf the Grey in The Hobbit is a much more awesome that Gandalf the Grey of LOTR. Sixty years must’ve taken its toll eh? Or perhaps something happens in that sixty years that resulted in Gandalf the Grey’s lesser use of magic. Maybe this ‘something’ will occur in either of the second or third films of the Hobbit trilogy.. This could also explain the disappearance of magical creatures in The Hobbit from LOTR such as the rock giants, reindeer mounts and Smaug the Dragon. Perhaps the Necromancer has some involvement. I also wonder how certain creatures seem quite eloquent and literate compared to creatures of LOTR such as the three trolls capable of engaging in dialogue, same as the Goblin King and the pale orc.

Well I think i listed everything that may have made The Hobbit feel off to me but despite these things I really did enjoy the movie. As a big fan of the LOTR trilogy, it was a dream come true to be able to return to Middle Earth and have all senses of nostalgia especially with the music that is played in scenes of The Shire. It was great to see how Biblo acquired Sting (more exciting to see how it gets the name in the next films), how Gandalf acquired his sword, the foreshadowing of Bilbo sparing Gollum’s life and how the ring changed owners. To be honest, despite the things that bothered me, I really do feel only good things can happen from here on out considering how An Unexpected Journey ended. I have heard that The Hobbit was never meant to be as dark as LOTR so the possibility to see how much Middle Earth changes  in sixty years is extremely exciting and could potentially clear up some of the issues I had with this movie.

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