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Brace yourself for blasphemy: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings do absolutely nothing for me.
Many would call that heresy, and publishing such an opinion on a site once known as Film Hobbit seems foolish. Quite simply, fantasy isn’t my thing. Wizards, fairies and dragons never floated my boat, though I have enjoyed several films in the genre that, somehow, found ways to entertain. Jackson’s Rings films were made with a slavish devotion for those who adored J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels. Fans of the books could have spent years exploring the three dense films Jackson and his WETA crew constructed from their source material; I felt like I lost years sitting through the full trilogy in theaters.
I never bothered with the Extended Edition cuts of the various DVD releases. I never did the marathon Rings screenings at neighborhood theaters. I still couldn’t pick Faramir out of a police lineup. And the scariest thing anyone could have told me a few years back was that Jackson was returning to Middle Earth for the rumored adaptation of The Hobbit. Then that adaptation would become a two-part effort. Then three films.
Had I mustered the courage to pen a letter to the director, it might have gone something like this: “Jesus, Jackson, really? When is enough enough? You got your Oscar for Return of the King, a film with a 30-minute epilogue. Was a return trip really necessary? Did you have that much more to say about Middle Earth and its bizarre denizens?” The Hobbit is the shortest of Tolkien’s four novels. Are you really going to milk it into yet another trilogy of near-three-hour epics that challenges your audiences’ attention spans, bladders and overall patience?”
Or something to that effect.
But now, speaking of unexpected journeys, there’s this: I loved The Hobbit. Like, deep down loved it. The story’s more streamlined. It’s lighter, and far more fun. The physical humor isn’t extinguished by the doom-and-gloom mood, as was often the case in the Rings films. When Gollum (Andy Serkis) surfaces, he’s distracted by amusing riddles, not dying to feast on Frodo’s brains. And instead of fretting over the obsessive power of the ring, Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) smokes a peace pipe, throws a party, and palavers with old friends Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) an Elrond (Hugo Weaving). Delightful! And yes, I had to use IMDB to look up all of their character names. I just can’t be bothered to learn that shit.
Something else stood out about The Hobbit. Instead of feeling tired, like The Rolling Stones having to play "Start Me Up" for the umpteenth time, Hobbit rode a brazen current of confidence. Jackson could claim to understand the world he was bringing to the screen, yet he clearly still has some curiosity about new corners of the universe. You know how comfortable you can get after you’ve been driving the same car for several years? It’s not like the first year or two, when you are super nervous of every little thing. After a while, you know how the car handles. You know what corners you can cut, and you know exactly how to spin the steering wheel when parallel parking in a ridiculously tight spot. I basically heard Jackson whispering “I got this, don’t worry” while watching The Hobbit … like, no matter where it turned, I trusted in Jackson to stick the landing. I had a faith that I never felt with the Rings movies, even by the time we reached King.
But the clincher, for me, is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. The actor’s simply more warm and inviting of a tour guide through Middle Earth than Elijah Wood, who’s a fine actor but not a performer who inspires me to pick up my sword and charge into battle. A cool distance separates Wood from his audience, at least on screen. Freeman seems like a normal Joe – er, hobbit – and when he digs deep into his soul to overcome genuine fear, I believed in his transition far more than I ever believed in Frodo’s trek into Mordor. Also, no Sean Astin. Bonus.
Of course, I’m once again in the minority. The Hobbit currently sits at 74% on Rotten Tomatoes – the lowest grade for his Tolkien adaptations by far. Critics are damning Jackson with faint-praise terms like “acceptable” and “decent enough.” Bill Goodykoontz of The Arizona Republic dares to claim, “It all just takes so long.” Where the hell was he during the previous three films? But I’m content to be a supportive voice when it comes to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a charming adventure that likely will serve as the introduction to both Tolkien and Jackson for children for decades to come. And for the first time since Jackson embarked on this vast Tolkien effort, I can honestly say I can’t wait until the next one.
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