The Hobbit &Ndash; An Unwanted Journey
Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, has more in common with Jackson’s need to expand the Lord of the Rings franchise than it does with Tolkien’s book.
If you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, you will not like Peter Jackson’s latest attempt to retell it. In the book, happy homebody hobbit Bilbo Baggins is invaded by a pack of dwarves and beset by Gandalf the Gray Wizard to embark on a quest to help the dwarves recover their treasure, stolen from them by Smaug the Evil Dragon. It’s great stuff – a classic adventure that teaches us about courage and honor and the power of friendship.
For the most part, An Unexpected Journey tells that story. And when he stays with the original story, director Peter Jackson does a masterful job of filmmaking. The characters are, for the most part, energetic and engaging, and the story clips right along.
But someone, somewhere, decided to augment the story with some extra drama – apparently Tolkien needed a little help – and that’s where this movie bogs down.
Enter Azog, the nasty orc – yes, orcs in the Hobbit – who is intent on wiping out Thorin Oakenshield’s entire family bloodline. From a nasty flashback in which he hacks the head off of Thorin’s granddaddy to about a hundred and fifty dull close-ups, this character casts a dim glow over the entire film. The actor, Manu Bennett, is saddled by the film’s long list of writers, and Azog has to rank number one on the list of boring and uninteresting bad guys. Poor Bennett has so much makeup on his face that he can’t act through it – as if he had dialog to say. And Jackson insists on giving the guy long close-ups that show his unending simmering rage. So nasty Azog rages, simmeringly, and utters cliche bad guy nastyisms like “smell the fear” and “Thorin is mine. Kill the rest.” Oh, that’s original stuff, there. That’s it. No backstory for him, no motivation. He’s just a nasty old orc.
After watching Richard Armitage’s Thorin for awhile, however, you do sort of see why Azog wants to kill him. Thorin saw his granddaddy’s head get whipped off – so do we, by the way – and his kingdom overrun by the nasty dragon. And he hates elves. And he doesn’t like Bilbo. These are the motivators that make him glower woodenly throughout the entire film. At first it’s kind of cool, sort of like Clint Eastwood. But eventually you expect the guy to crack a smile, or a smirk, or something other than a haughty, hurt look. His acting make you think his character’s name really should have been Thorin Oaken-face. And there’s not much to explain why every other dwarf we see in the movie has a Scottish dialect (even his father and granddaddy), but he doesn’t. Boarding school in some foreign land, probably. By the end of the film you sort of root for Azog, just to put the guy out of our misery. Jackson, who undoubtedly realized his writers also gave poor Armitage nothing to work with, attempts to amp up the drama by giving even more close-ups on his glowering rage face. Sometimes it’s bloody, sometimes it’s sweaty, but it’s always the same glower. Snore.