Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Every tale has its beginning.  For a couple of unsuspecting hobbits,  this was most certainly so.  Both hobbits began their tale and embarked on a long journey.  A journey that would change both of their lives forever.  First, with Bilbo Baggins.  And then, finally, with Frodo Baggins.  Nine years ago, we saw Frodo’s tale unfold.  He found the ring that was made and then made a long journey to the cracks of Mount Doom, where he was able to unmake it.  With that, Frodo’s tale came to an end, as he made his way back back to the Shire, with his other hobbit friends that accompanied him on his long journey.

But that was only Frodo’s tale.  What about Bilbo Baggins’ tale?  That clever old hobbit of Bag End returned from his journey with a rather big secret.  A secret that would require the telling of his tale to explain.  But this was not the only thing going on in this tale.  Some dwarfs needed to recover their treasure from an evil dragon.  This is the premise of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the long awaited prequel released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Studios.

To start things off, this movie is based off of The Hobbit, a masterpiece written by J.R.R. Tolkien.  He has also created timeless classic The Lord of the Rings.  A classic that is still loved to this day.

While Tolkien has created pure literary gold, acclaimed director Peter Jackson is the one who has brought his classics to life.  We have already seen his work with the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The movie adaptations are the best that I have seen of any adaptation dealing with the Lord of the Rings franchise.  But how does Jackson fare with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey?  Is the movie a dazzling gem of gold like the trilogy, or is it a smoldering pile of ruins?  Let’s find out.

The movie begins with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) with Frodo (Elijah Wood), beginning to write the full story of his adventure that he went on 60 years ago.  We then see the prosperity of the dwarves, living in Erebor and their demise, when Smaug the Dragon arrives.  Having already destroyed the town of Dale, he drives all the dwarves out of Erebor.

After this, Bilbo officially begins his tale, with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) pulling a trick on him.  A large host of dwarves enter, leaving Bilbo to feed them all.  The true reason behind all this was that the dwarves needed a burglar for their journey.  Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the leader of the band of dwarves, is on a journey to find their “long forgotten gold”.  Bilbo wants no part in this journey.  The very next day, however, he changes his mind, almost getting left behind.

The journey begins, leaving Bilbo without the comforts of home.  The group encounters mountain trolls, which end up getting petrified by sunlight.

After this, they encounter Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy).  He mentions how a strange presence that he encountered at Dol Guldur is poisoning the forest.  The group is then chased by Orcs on Wargs.  They were able to escape with the help of a couple Elven riders.

The company then enters the Elven stronghold of Rivendell, where Elrond (Hugo Weaving) was able to interpret the moon runes on Thorin’s map.  He explains that there is a secret door that will only be visible on Durin’s Day.  Following this, Gandalf talks with Elrond, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman the White (Sir Christopher Lee), secretly sending Bilbo and the dwarves away towards the Misty Mountains.

After the Misty Mountains, Bilbo ends up in a cave with Gollum (Andy Serkis).  With Gollum losing the ring, Bilbo finds it and hides it in his pocket.  A game of riddles then begins between Bilbo and Gollum.  If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out.  If Gollum wins, then he will eat Bilbo.  Does he find the way out?  And what about the troubles that his dwarf-friends are facing?  When will this journey end?  Watch the movie and find out.

I completely understood the length of the movie, considering that nearly three hours was barely enough time to even get to Erebor, let alone the Battle of the Five Armies and the fight with Smaug.  They didn’t even come close to this.  But with two more movies on the way, it is clearly understandable why the plot cliffhanged at the end.  The plot advanced normally, with some other surprises along the way.  The music was amazing.  Especially all the versions of Misty Mountains Cold.

Getting to the characters, they were all portrayed faithfully as they were in the book.  We have Bilbo Baggins, with the Gandalf that we all know and love.  All the dwarves were portrayed well.  Gollum is another character that made the movie for me.  There was the inclusion of Radagast the Brown.  He was a rather interesting character, but in reality had no place in the movie.  Furthermore, while Elrond appeared in the movie as he should, Galadriel and Saruman the White were strangely present. Besides these odd inclusions, the characters were all executed quite well and were all unique in the manner that Tolkien would’ve intended them.

This movie did have a couple nitpicks, but they were not too many.  One of them dealt with the lines when Bilbo was with the trolls.  In the movie, Bilbo said “burglar….Hobbit”.  In the book,  he said “bur – a hobbit”.  I would rather have the trolls call him a “burrahobit” than a “burglar hobbit”.  Another nitpick was the inclusion of Radagast the Brown.  While he is an actual character in the Lord of the Rings universe, he is not anywhere to be found in the original book.  The last nitpick I have deals with the meeting at Rivendell.  During the meeting, Galadriel and Saruman the White were present.  There was no mention of them in the book!  I found this to be fan-servicey and a way to get more familiar characters back in the movie. If all these nitpicks were not there, the movie would’ve been a little better.

How did The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey do?  Looking at the box office results, it’s doing amazing, but it could do better.  Falling short of its $100 million opening weekend goal, it grossed $84.6 million during its opening weekend.  Even with a modest opening, it is still the best opening of any of the past Lord of the Rings movies.  Fellowship of the Ring grossed $47.2 million on its opening weekend.  The Two Towers grossed $62 million and Return of the King grossed $72.6 million.  The current domestic gross of this movie is $92.3 million. In adding the foreign gross of $138.2 million, the worldwide gross stands at $230.5 million.  With a $270 million production budget, it will surely make it back within the next weekend.  With all nitpicks aside,  I really enjoyed the movie.  I loved seeing the breathtaking scenery of Middle Earth again and I loved the music.  Jackson has done it again.  It is a visual masterpiece, complete with breathtaking scenery and visuals.  The reprising of Gandalf’s and Gollum’s role was important to the success of the movie for me, and I felt that it really made the movie.  With all differences set aside from the book, I think that Jackson has the formula.  The formula that he used in the trilogy is used again in this movie.  As every tale has a beginning, I believe that this tale began well.  I look forward to how this tale continues with the next two parts of this amazing prologue.  I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a 5 out of 5.

 

Movie Review – The Secret World of Arrietty

What was that?  Did you just see that go by?

If you didn’t see it, I did, and can tell you all about it.  What I saw was a little person, about four inches tall.  It was a Borrower, borrowing some of my food to bring back to his family so that his family can survive.

Okay.  I didn’t really see a Borrower.  I did, however, see The Secret World of Arrietty, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest animated masterpiece to reach America, courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.  I say this because Japan got their first viewing of the movie back in July of 2010.

In Japan, the movie was released by Toho (a film distribution company) as “The Borrower Arrietty” (or 借りぐらしのアリエッティ, Kari-gurashi no Arietti if you’re a language buff).  I will get to the performance later.

In moving along, Miyazaki has created several animated masterpieces.  This automatically begs the question: Does The Secret World of Arrietty stand tall among his other works, or is it a miniscule work that is destined to be missed and forgotten?  Let’s find out.

Before I get to the review, I think that it is only fair that I offer you some background on Miyazaki.  For those who don’t know much about his work, Hayao Miyazaki is considered by some to be the Japanese version of Walt Disney.  The animated films that he makes are quite charming and the experience associated with it can only be described as pure magic.  A few of his notable works include Princess Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle and the highly-acclaimed Spirited Away.  Studio Ghibli is the workshop where all these masterpieces are born.  With Walt Disney Pictures partnering with Studio Ghibli, these gems can be localized for the U.S., and can be enjoyed by a new audience.  Now, we will get to the review.

The movie begins with a 12-year old boy named Shawn (David Henrie) being driven to his mother’s childhood home.  Being gravely ill, he is dropped off there, since his parents are too busy to care for him.  He is left under the care of great aunt Jessica (Gracie Poletti), and Hara (Carol Burnett), the caretaker for Jessica’s house.

Meanwhile, a 14-year old “little” girl named Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler) grabs a bay leaf and runs home.  On her way there, she was nearly attacked by a cat but escaped.

Unbeknownst to Arrietty, Shawn noticed her as he was getting out of the car.  He saw the cat trying to attack something, until it ran off after being attacked by a crow.  When he saw what the cat was trying to attack, he saw a very tiny girl.

Back at Arrietty’s house, her father Pod (Will Arnett) takes her on her first borrowing expedition.  The mission?  Get some sugar and tissue paper.  Arrietty’s mother Homily (Amy Poehler), being the worrywart that she is, told Arrietty to be careful.

And with that, the father and daughter borrowers were off.  Pod takes Arrietty above the floor boards and they carry out their mission.

All goes according to plan until they get to the tissue box in Shawn’s room.  As they were grabbing the tissue, Arrietty notices that Shawn is awake.  In a silent frenzy of panic, she drops the sugar cube that she got with her father.  Shawn, in wanting to get to know them better, tells them not to be afraid of him.

The mission was not a total failure.  Arrietty manages to borrow her very first item: a stray pin that she found on the floor.  In grabbing the pin, she holds it like a sword and holsters it into the side of her dress.

Upon going home, Arrietty has failed on one major count.  According to the Borrowers, a Borrower cannot be seen by a “Being”.  Since the young “Being” Shawn saw her, it has awoken his curiosity for them.  Arrietty is then faced with a dilemma.  Should she befriend Shawn and endanger her family?  Doing this could risk her being noticed by other “Beings”.  “Beings” that are not quite as friendly as Shawn is.  So is Arrietty in danger now?  I could tell you, but where’s the fun in that?  Watch the movie and find out.

In understanding the length of the movie, I really loved how the plot was executed.  Two different worlds were presented.  Our world and the Borrower’s world, which is a little bit more dangerous for them.  The music was amazing, and was integrated well with the scenery.

Getting to the characters, Miyazaki once again did this well.  We are given Shawn, a boy with an ongoing medical condition.  We have great aunt Jessica (based off of great aunt Sophie from Howl’s Moving Castle) and Hara, the crazy housekeeper.  In the Borrower’s world, we have the somewhat loyal and tenacious Arrietty, with the father Pod being strong and reserved and the mother Homily being excitable with an eye for luxury.  I also liked Spiller (Moisés Arias), a tribal boy Borrower who yielded a bow and visited the Arrietty’s family.  I liked what they did with his voice, in making him speak like a native.  All in all, the variety of characters were all executed well and were each unique in their own way.

While The Secret World of Arrietty was close to perfect, there were a couple things that that I just couldn’t help but nitpick.  My major one was with the music during the credits of the movie.  While I loved the first song in the credits, the second one was total trash.  It’s the fluffy bubblegum pop that Disney calls music.  The song was reminiscent of the crappy Jonas Brothers remix that they did for Ponyo.  Word to Disney.  Don’t mess with the soundtrack!  Miyazaki gets it right, and you have to go and insert your bubblegum teeny-bop crap in the credits.  Besides that, the movie is gold.  All the other songs are fine.  My one other nitpick, albeit being much smaller has to do with the length of the movie.  I really thought that the movie should’ve been a little longer.  More could’ve been done with plot and character development.  Then we would have something akin to Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away.  However, with the G rating, I believe that only so much could be done here.  As it is, a child’s attention span is limited compared to an adult’s.  Being similar in length to Ponyo, they probably wanted to appeal to more children.  I am satisfied with the ending, but I still thought that they could’ve added a little more to the movie.

How did The Secret World of Arrietty do?  In Japan, it did pretty well, grossing 9.25 billion yen ($110 million).  In spite of that, it’s a far cry from Howl’s Moving Castle’s 23.2 billion yen ($231.7 million) and Spirited Away’s 27.5 billion yen ($275 million).  While the numbers for Arrietty were good in Japan, they were terrible here.  With a Borrower-sized $6.5 million weekend gross, this poor film doesn’t stand a chance to the “Being” films that are competing against it.  With numbers like this, I would give this film a month at the most.  Fortunately, this review is not about numbers.  Size doesn’t matter.  What matters is whether I liked the movie or not.  Spirited Away was Japan’s highest grossing movie and was the first Miyazaki movie I ever saw.  Since then, I have seen a handful of them, in eager anticipation for each new one that comes out.  In comparing this movie to other Miyazaki movies that I have seen in the past, I would have to say that I really enjoyed it.  It’s no Spirited Away, but a great movie in its own right.  For the most part, it was localized well, except for that one track that Disney included at the end.  I enjoyed the scenery and loved the story.  It was a heartfelt story filled with adventure, courage and hope.  I give The Secret World of Arrietty a 4 out of 5.