Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Pleasure

So I realized that I wrote this a while back but did not actually get around to publishing it. Oops. So here it is now. You could consider this laziness, but I'd still stand by everything I said below.

I finally got around to seeing The Hobbit (and the Star Trek intro, you bet), and after hearing a resounding chorus of "meh" about the movie, I have to say it was... rather enjoyable.

That's not to say it was fantastic, but I was entertained from start to finish, and I did not at any point regret that I was sitting in the movie theater for three hours.

It helped that my expectations were already south of high (based on other reviews and the sudden decision to make a full trilogy), so I was able to enjoy the movie for what it was, not as Lord of the Rings Part IV.

Speaking of, it probably also helped that I have seen LotR since its initial release and found that it's a highly entertaining and masterfully made set of films, but maybe not quite the perfection I first believed it to be. Don't get me wrong, it's epic. It's lavish. And any movie that carries the burden of that many prosthetic ears and unpronounceable names with as much dignity deserves respect. But, to be honest, there are times during the trilogy when I'm a little bored. When the grandiose dialogue gets tiresome. When the excess of earnestness weighs heavily.

The stylistic contrasts are part of what I particularly enjoyed about The Hobbit. One of my favorite scenes occurs when the dwarves dine at Rivendell. In the LotR trilogy, the dwarves are frequently portrayed in a humorous manner (because, of course, short characters with exaggerated features are ripe for humor) while the elves are never anything but majestic. That's why this dinner scene was such a treat.

The dwarves pick over plates of something out of a raw vegan diet and look like they'd slaughter their horses for some meat, and the joke's on them. Meanwhile, elves on flutes play serene tunes right into their ears, and the joke's on them, too. See, the dwarves are Seriously Hungry, and the elves are Seriously Serious, and it's kind of refreshing for the filmmakers to acknowledge that both states of being are humorous.

Another thing I liked was that the morality of the characters and their decisions carried a little more nuance. In LotR, it sometimes felt that everyone got along just a little too well. Of course, Boromir tries to steal the ring, but that's clearly a wrong and evil decision. And Sam and Frodo trade doubts and suspicions over their trek, but what else are they going to do for two full movies? But the rest of the fellowship carries on rather bro-tastically.

Not so in The Hobbit, where Thorin doubts Bilbo, the other dwarves doubt Bilbo, Bilbo doubts Bilbo, actually, pretty much everyone except Gandalf doubts Bilbo. In fact, Thorin also doubts Gandalf at times, but mostly because he really doubts the elves. There is a sense that the politics and prejudices of various characters and factions will further emerge in the next two films, which brings us to the next point.

The Hobbit has a less clear (and less epic) sense of good vs. evil than LotR, and I suspect that this is part of the let-down for many viewers. In LotR, the good guys are fighting Pure Evil to save Middle Earth, so the question of whose side we're on (and to what extent) is a pretty shallow one. In The Hobbit, the dwarves are trying to reclaim their ancient kingdom. It's a smaller conflict by comparison, and for me that makes it a more intimate one. It also allows that the dwarves + Bilbo may be the protagonists, but they might not always be clearly in the right. And they may find conflict with other characters who are. This is the kind of grey area that I find compelling.

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