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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman |

3 Stars — Powerful

The first film of the long-expected prequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is a mixed bag. For those who love J.R.R. Tolkien’s books as director Peter Jackson does, it is easy to experience his enjoyment through his film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The special effects and the attention to detail, as well as the speed of the camera, all create a visual representation that is at times overwhelming, especially in 3-D.

But the lack of chemistry between the dwarves and the Hobbit, as well as the more buffoonish depiction of Gandalf, leaves out the depth of relationships we experienced in the Rings trilogy. It is this relational absence that makes the overall effect of the film more of a ghoulish tale than an engaging adventure.

Even so, this introductory tale is still wonderful and powerful storytelling for those who have previous acquaintance with the tale. For those who do not, it might be confusing and look more like the seven dwarves bumbling through Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. We look forward to these adjustments in the two succeeding chapters.

Providing his input on the screenplay, Jackson uses the same writers as he did in the first trilogy, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. However, in this third film he adds the input of Guillermo del Toro, known for writing the Hellboy film and video games. It is perhaps his influence that pushes the film into a more graphically violent direction. This is evident throughout the film as decapitations are depicted and heads roll similar to a Mad Max scene in which the individual is beheaded but doesn’t realize it at first until his body no longer responds.

The central character is Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman/Ian Holm). Writing his adventure 60 years later when the Lord of the Rings trilogy begins, we return to his youth when he was chosen by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to join a band of 12 dwarves who are taking back their homeland deep within Lonely Mountain. Years before, the dragon Smaug had taken possession of the golden kingdom of Erebor from the dwarf King Thror (Jeffrey Thomas).

When Thror is beheaded by the pale orc Azog (Manu Bennett), his grandson Thorin (Richard Armitage) becomes the caretaker of his people until his kingdom can be regained. It is Thorin who leads the band to regain the kingdom. This first chapter of The Hobbit tale takes us from the Shire to the mountain. The next film will continue the adventure into the mountain to face the awakening dragon.

The central event in this first part of The Hobbit tale is the seemingly serendipitous meeting of Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis). Deep beneath the kingdom of the orcs, Bilbo watches Gollum attempt to take a fallen orc for food. But in doing so, Gollum loses his “precious,” a ring of ultimate power that is the focal point of the succeeding trilogy.

This encounter is a masterpiece of literature and now of cinema. The addiction that Gollum has to the power of the ring has driven him deep into isolation and insanity as well as a conflicted personality split. Sparing Gollum’s life, Bilbo sets in place the central struggle that will not only plague his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) in the Lord of the Rings, but also prove to be the key to defeating evil in Middle Earth.

We hope that the films are not as brutally dark in the subsequent chapters of The Hobbit tale, as we look forward to the completion of this amazing Tolkien story.


» Early in the film, Gandalf tells Bilbo as he gives him his sword that “courage is knowing when to spare the life of another,” and later we realize this is fulfilled when Bilbo spares Gollum’s life. Do you believe courage is most expressed by extending mercy? Why do you answer as you do?

» The stubborn nature of dwarves is seen most clearly when Thorin at first refuses to allow Elrond (Hugo Weaving) to read his map although he cannot proceed or succeed without his help. In what way has stubbornness or pride kept you from succeeding?

» The introduction of the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) who brings people back from the dead in order to attack the living touches on a deep fear. What about death scares you the most? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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