An Unexpected Journey Fosters an Unexpected Appeal
Peter Jackson is a brilliant filmmaker, and he proved it to us when he effectively built fresh cinematography upon the undergirding storyline of his former franchise, The Lord of the Rings. He both satisfied Lord of the Rings (LOTR) fans as well invited new ones to the world of Middle Earth with his directorial expertise. The continuity between the LOTR and The Hobbit was satisfying for LOTR fans like me, but The Hobbit was also given a life of its own that ushered in a whole new aspect of Middle Earth for all of us to enjoy.
Adjusting From The Lord of the Rings
As with all art, time changes the medium. Nobody wants to watch a trilogy with the tedium of The Lord of the Rings anymore, which is why The Hobbit is so different. Peter Jackson wisely adapted his cinematic model to fit the changing tastes of moviegoers. I had a hard time adapting to this new experience with all its CGI, fast-paced plot pace and high-flying action, but I’m sure that this hesitation on accepting the newness of The Hobbit was due to my own personal expectations. After all, every moviegoer is different, which is why no two individuals will have the same opinion on every film. I fully enjoyed the LOTR trilogy, and I half-expected that its prequel trilogy would maintain the same cinematic methods. Since it did not, however, I had to come to peace with the changes. I needed to understand that The Hobbit is different because it needed to be, not because it was trying to distance itself from the LOTR. For me, the Unexpected Journey fostered an unexpected appeal because it kept beckoning me back to the Middle Earth I love. I didn’t want to accept the changes, but the atmosphere and world of Middle Earth itself appealed to my deep appreciation for Tolkien’s world.
The Hobbit manifested a perfect balance of freshness and convention (in terms of its continuity with The Lord of the Rings). Indeed, due to the franchise’s continuity with the LOTR, fans of Tolkien and Peter Jackson’s former trilogy can find peace with the cinematic changes found in this new trilogy. Perhaps the most severe change was the switch from set miniatures to complete CGI.
The CGI of An Unexpected Journey (in contrast to The Desolation of Smaug) disappointed me. The methods and use of miniatures in the LOTR was effective, and the switch to CGI surprised me. Further, the choppiness of the CGI made it even harder to accept the switch. The editing work on the orcs, goblins and wargs was meager and seemed to be rushed (which is understandable due to the small timeframe involved in the production).
Two significant points of difference between the two franchises worth addressing are the orcs’ language and the physical alterations of the wargs and trolls. First, using subtitles with the untranslated language of the orcs emphasizes the separation between the Evil and the Good of Middle Earth, and I think the switch was a wise decision. It effectively provides a sense that the orcs are foreign to the rest Middle Earth. Second, the wargs look more like wolves than hyenas (as in the LOTR), which is also a good switch since the wargs of Middle Earth are essentially smart wolves. The trolls, on the other hand, were more disappointing; they were deliberately called “mountain trolls” in the film, yet they did not look like the mountain trolls of the LOTR, which is sad because I thought that the mountain trolls of the LOTR possessed a more fearsome demeanor. If the trolls of The Hobbit were meant to be different than mountain trolls, they should have been called something else because calling them “mountain trolls” throws enthusiasts off.
The Unexpected Appeal
Despite such differences, though, the Middle Earth of The Hobbit is the same as the LOTR. The world envelops viewers and takes them on a much expected journey. When a character gets wrapped up in an unexpected adventure, it’s hard for moviegoers to ignore it. The thrills found in the unforeseen details of an adventure are what keep The Hobbit, and films like it, so captivating. The appeal of such dangers inherent in the quest for Erebor proves that the conflict between Good and Evil is still a paramount plot structure for moviegoers.
More importantly, though, is the power that a flawed, but determined, leader holds for plot development. The stubborn Thorin Oakenshield paves the way for the rest of his companions in their quest for their homeland, and following such a character with such a purpose is not only inspiring for Bilbo and Dwarves but also for the viewers as well. Viewers get the sense that they are on the same quest when watching him lead the way. Perhaps some of us, similar to Bilbo, even want to jump right into the film itself and go on the adventure too.
The beauty of the fantasy genre is the ability to rekindle childhood imaginations and rediscover the adventures of life--even if those adventures are as prosaic as finding a new job. In viewing the LOTR and The Hobbit, our mundane lives are sprinkled with the colors and textures of a world that we desperately want to experience. This world in itself trumps the cinematic deviations that may contrast the franchises that share it. The world of Middle Earth is indeed the unexpected appeal of An Unexpected Journey.