Last Friday, I sat in our local theater, with a book in my lap. My dad, sister and I had arrived an hour and a half early to get good seats. And so while we waited in the semi-lighted theater, I flipped back through The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. I mentioned in my last post about The Hobbit that I was going to read the book before the movie came out. I did, but just to make sure that I was really, really, really refreshed on the story, I re-read portions of the book before the movie started.
When I finally put down the book and the film began, it was as if I hadn’t stopped reading at all.
Never in my life have I been more pleased with a movie adaptation of a book. While the movie-makers did add a few things that were not in the original story, they stayed remarkably true to Tolkien’s masterpiece. The majority of the lines from the movie were word-for-word for the book, the story line followed the original plot beat by beat, several of the scenes looked exactly like Alan Lee’s illustrations, and the characters were just as I had imagined them, if not better. It was as if I were watching my imagination play out before me.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first in a trilogy of films based on J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. It follows the adventures of the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, after he joins a company of 13 dwarves on their quest. The dwarves, led by the head dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield, are determined to take back their homeland, Erebor, which was stolen from them decades ago by the dragon Smaug. Gandalf the wizard, accompanying them on their journey, insists that they include the hobbit in their company. No one is very pleased with the arrangement, especially Bilbo. He loves his hobbit hole, with his pantry and armchairs and books, and doesn’t relish the idea of spending weeks in the wilderness. But, as Gandalf says, there’s more to Mr. Baggins than anyone would guess – including Bilbo himself. He decides to aid the dwarves on their quest, and do what no respectable hobbit ever does: go on an adventure.
Because the movie was so long, they (meaning the amazing group of people responsible for making the film) were able to take their time with each scene, making it as true to the book as possible. Also, they added lots of the dwarves’ back story. I don’t think that I’d ever truly understood the dwarves’ point of view until I saw the fall of Erebor and Dale with my own eyes. Seeing their home burned and destroyed by Smaug gave me a sympathy for their quest that I’d never had before. Another interesting part of their history – their battle against Azog and his orc army – was woven into An Unexpected Journey in a neat way. The story behind the dwarves’ hatred of Azog appears in the Appendices of The Lord of the Rings, but few fans know the full history. I thought that the addition of Azog as a villain in An Unexpected Journey (while not in the book) gave extra depth to the dwarves.
I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but every time I’ve read The Hobbit, I haven’t had a very clear idea of what the dwarves look like. They seemed to be 13 gray-bearded clones, distinguished only by the colors of the tassels on their hoods. The dwarves in the movie were delightfully unique; each one had a distinct personality and look that was miles away from my old mental images of them.
But most shocking of all to me was Thorin. I was apprehensive when I found out that such a young actor was going to be playing the dwarf who was supposed to be the oldest of all. I didn’t expect him to be able to carry the weight and dignity of the leader of the company.
I shouldn’t have worried.
Richard Armitage was Thorin. His every action and word was filled with the haughty dignity, the bitterness of his long exile, the solemnity and gravity that Thorin is supposed to portray. And adding to the darker side of Thorin’s character was an unexpected tenderness, long-buried and half-forgotten. It deepened and rounded out his character in a wonderful way. I couldn’t have been more surprised, or pleased.
I was overjoyed to see more of Gandalf – the merrier, lighter side of Gandalf that you only get glimpses of in The Lord of the Rings. The sense of his power wasn’t diminished, though, by seeing him smile and hearing him laugh more often. Certain scenes gave glimpses into the magnitude of his power that took my breath away.
As much as I adored all of the other characters, the majestic music, the breathtaking landscapes, and the overall handling of the story, Bilbo was my favorite aspect of the whole film. Martin Freeman captured the essence of the hobbit in every way imaginable.
In the book, much of Bilbo’s development hinged on the narrator describing Bilbo’s the changes that he underwent during his journey. Freeman single-handedly accomplished this through his acting. Often the biggest turning-points in the hobbit’s character, in the movie, were scenes in which there was no dialogue. Bilbo’s courage, endurance, and loyalty were conveyed through a masterful job on Freeman’s part. In Tolkien’s tales, hobbits – though they’re small, quiet and seem insignificant – are often the most important and most loved of all the creatures in Middle Earth. Martin Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo reminded me why.
Bilbo’s thoroughly hobbitish characteristics (his love of order, quiet, smoke rings, tea, and doilies) set off his stronger qualities. It was amazing to see the comfort-loving hobbit in rough, dangerous situations, and watch him rise to the occasion. Perhaps that’s why Tolkien created Hobbits in the first place: to bridge the gap between the modern and the archaic, the everyday, and the heroic. Hobbits are, out of all the peoples of Middle-Earth, the most like us.
They like routines, nice armchairs, indoor plumbing, and regular meals. They’re unused to violence, battles, and swords. And yet, when the need arises, though they are not warriors or heroes, they are capable of great things. I believe that Tolkien was trying to remind his readers that though they probably have never been in a battle or felt the weight of a shield on their arm or spent weeks on the road with no pocket handkerchiefs, they are still capable of courageous acts. You don’t have to be a hero to be heroic.
Watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a fantastic experience. The actors, the music, the scenery, and the story line were all handled with such care and attention to detail as blew my mind. But perhaps most wonderful of all was the challenge I found myself facing as I watched the show. I arrived at the theater expecting to be entertained. I left it encouraged and inspired. I felt such a connection to Bilbo in his love of order and comfort, that I hoped that someday I might be able to become like him in courage that he showed. And so in the end, The Hobbit proved Gandalf’s words true: there’s much more to it than anyone might expect.