It…Cannot Be!

I’ve heard a LOT of talk about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, including this scathing review from Ann Hornaday, who panned it on the Tony Kornheiser show and in her review in the Washington Post. Hornaday’s discussion with Kornheiser kind of turned a light on for me, something I’d never really thought about before this past weekend: not everyone loves the fantasy genre.

It seems like an obvious thing. Not everyone loves romantic comedies. Not everyone loves courtroom dramas. Not everyone loves a period piece. And yeah, not everyone loves dragons and wizards.

There are genres I dislike too. I’m just not a fan anymore (I was at one time, long ago) of splatter pics or psycho-thrillers. But this is mostly because I dislike the uncomfortable feeling I get from them. What discomfort is there in seeing wizards and dragons on the screen? I find it odd that sorcery and goblins turn people off, especially when there is so much more to a good movie than that.

It must be something else, something that gets included in the shorthand of calling something a wizards and dragons movie.

The critics are in full agreement on a couple of things about this new Peter Jackson film. First, everyone agrees that it’s too long, which points to a few other things, such as pacing and plot. The effects seem to be disliked by most of the critics, too. They think the whole thing is bloated, perhaps with too many action sequences.

I mention all of this to say that they might be right, but I still think The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is going to be my favorite film of 2012. It is long, but it’s not unpleasantly so. It does take its time, but it does it in good ways, establishing mood and character in a manner I found pleasant and interesting. I might agree with its having too many action sequences, but I’ve come to expect that from such films. Plus, one of the sequences near the end, in which the dwarfs (with wizard) escape a goblin kingdom, is pretty creative.

The film’s saving grace, according to critics, is the Riddles in the Dark scene with Bilbo and Golem. I have not read the novel on which this film and its two forthcoming sequels are based, but I am very familiar with this scene, as it was read to me by a teacher in fourth grade who then asked us to see if we could come up with our own rhyming riddles. While I really enjoyed the way the scene plays out, it seems to me that something was slightly off in the animators’ computers. Golem’s movements are all terrific, as they were in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but something about the way his body interacts with the earth doesn’t seem right. His gravity is off, and he seems to be hovering a few atoms’ width above the earth.

But c’mon. It’s a trek. It stars a simple, innocent hobbit, someone pure enough of heart to be least corruptible by access to limitless power. Bilbo’s greatest moments don’t come as the result of magic, but as expressions of decency and compassion, something Gandalf the Grey rather heavy-handedly (but poetically and sweetly) makes too obvious in a conversation with Galadriel. The world can be changed and its wars can be won by everyday moments of kindness and love.

This is not my review, which I’ll write later this week. These are just some thoughts about how a film with such mixed reviews can so quickly and deeply resonate with me, and how there must be some kind of disconnect between what I see on that screen for close to three hours and what critics see.

There is more to a fantasy movie than magic and monsters. There is scale, for one thing. Fantasies tend to be about huge things. There is a lot of walking, as Kevin Smith derisively points out (which is funny because in his movies, there’s lots of sitting). There’s an assembly of differently-talented adventurers. There’s fictional history, which must all be explained by someone, often at great length and in great detail. And there’s always the impending showdown. If those things tend to turn you off, you probably won’t want to see this film.

But if they don’t, see it. It’s a wonderful movie.


  1. I find that sometimes, people who don’t like fantasy think it’s all just silly. I’ve also found that those who haven’t given it much of a chance write it off as being nerdy & put down its fans, but we’re usually having more fun than anyone else.

  2. There are a lot of silly things in movies that generally get received well, such as talking animals in Disney cartoons. Do you think that because fantasy movies tend to be serious, the silliness is magnified and made more obvious?

    The goblins and ogres in this film ARE silly. I don’t honestly know how anyone keeps a straight face when they are presented. But when everything else in a film is presented so believably — aha. I wonder if it’s believability that’s the contentious issue — the sillier things can sort of be accepted.

    More fun. Yes. We are having more fun. Good for us.

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