The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Life of Pi (Spoiler Free Reviews)

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Level 56
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So I don't have to make two threads, and also because no one is talking about the latter film. But first, the one that everyone and their grandmother is probably going to go see:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Before I go in to everything this movie did wrong (and it does a lot), I want to say that I did enjoy this movie overall. It's fun, even if that fun doesn't feel entirely genuine at times.

Anyone who has read The Hobbit knows that it isn't, either in spirit or in tone, anything much like The Lord of the Rings. It's smaller, more whimsical, and has a generally creepier atmosphere than the epic trilogy that came after. And so anyone who has heard that The Hobbit is to be a film trilogy has probably groaned at the mere thought of all the filler that would be required to squeeze three films out of a book that doesn't reach the three-hundred page mark. Somehow, the studio has forced a trilogy of three-hour movies out of a book that isn't nearly as long as one book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

One way this is accomplished is through the use of supplemental materials from Tolkien that never made it into publication in a true novel. While the addition of elements such as Radagahst, the Brown or the Necromancer might amuse some, it confuses the narrative and makes it feel choppy. The movie often feels like it grinds to a complete halt, spinning its wheels to incorporate these elements, which add nothing to the overall plot. Even worse is the numerous attempts to link this trilogy (I still can't believe it's a trilogy) back to first one. Often time, this takes the place of cameos from characters such as Galadriel (and some others I won't spoil--Galadriel was in the trailer). I won't deny that these cameos didn't tickle some deeply-buried fanboy funny-bone, but it didn't take long for one particular scene to wear on my nerves, seeing as it was such an annoyingly long scene that was nothing but a retcon to link the two trilogies. When I came to see this movie, I didn't want to see the prequel to The Lord of the Rings. I wanted to see The Hobbit. Even though I expected the movie I got, it was still disappointing.

The addition of these elements also hurts the movie's tone, as it often cannot decide if it wants to be whimsical, or have the epic tone and film of the first trilogy. I can honestly say the film works when it is doing the former, but made me groan almost every time it tried to be like The Lord of the Rings. One scene in particular towards the end of the film is a glaring example. A certain piece of music is used from the original trilogy that was dark, foreboding, and told of world being uprooted and utterly changed forever. Here, it is used during the fight scene of an added subplot that basically amounts to a personal grudge of the shoehorned antagonist of this film (a white orc) against Thorin Oakenshield. Not only is this character's motivation vague and the character himself uninteresting, but the attempts to treat the situation as if it were as epic as the conflict in The Lord of the Rings, what with the music and the use of Peter Jackson's signature slo-mo, made the whole business hard to take seriously. The stakes just weren't high enough for that kind of treatment.

This is my biggest gripe with the film. The tone jumps around too much, and, honestly, this story is just too small for the kind of epic treatment that the Peter Jackson sometimes is giving us. The film handles the whimsy surprisingly well, but, more surprisingly, is that Peter Jackson's epic, drawn-out style falls flat here, despite that being his major trademark. Just as in King Kong, Jackson's usual style sometimes grates on the nerves, and one scene in particular (where Bilbo meets the dwarves) seems to go on forever.

And even that might be alright if he just stuck to one overall spirit or tone for the film. There are other times when this mistake rears its ugly head. The well-known scene from the book with the three trolls is a mostly goofy scene, but the addition of a fight scene in the middle feels brutal and out of place. I felt more assaulted than the trolls. It wasn't the fight scene itself that was painful, but the sudden shift of tone came so fast that I had whiplash. That's made worse by the fact that the scene goes right back to the goofiness immediately after, making the fight scene feel completely pointless.

As I mentioned earlier, some music is used from the first trilogy. Though Of Hobbits is a welcome and expected addition, the other uses of music from the first three films feels like more of a distraction, or, at least, a desperate attempt to make the audience go "oh, I remember that part of the first movies, wasn't that fun?" Even some of the new music has undertones, or sub-melodies of music from the first trilogy. When the group is running away from wargs on an open field, I know I heard snippets of the theme music for Rohan, obviously meant to reference the scene in The Two Towers where the refugees from Rohan are beset by warg-riding orcs. Noticing this did more to distract me from my experience with the film than it did to make me enjoy it more.

Finally, the film seemed to lack palpable atmosphere, and the overall creepy vibe of the novel feels entirely lost. The Hobbit is an uneasy and confused start for this trilogy. It doesn't seem to know what it wants to be, other than a trilogy that ties into The Lord of the Rings, and that motivation to make this a big blockbuster trilogy like LotR is transparent enough that it was on my mind the whole time I was watching it. I never really lost myself in it as the original trilogy had done for me. I was always pointing out in my mind this or that, and some scenes were so long and boring that I found myself examining the scenery and props a little too intently. And, yet, I feel as though I can't hate this film. I can't not like it either. I did have fun, even if the whole movie reeks of too much studio decision-making.

Life of Pi

Going from the biggest disappointment of the year to probably the best movie of the year, Life of Pi is an extraordinary film. I'm a huge fan of the novel, and was initially worried that the film would be a watered-down version of what I have come to see as the very best fictional novel about philosophy, religion, and the nature of how and why we believe. The previews for the film touted only its visual splendor, but not the story or wealth of ideas the novel presented. I feared that this had been dumbed down to make it a family movie, and the presence of parents and young children at the theatre only made me worry more. But after only two minutes, the film's tone, ponderous pace, and carefully written dialogue reassured me. Ten minutes into the film, my expectations were shattered and I was blown away. Make no mistake, Life of Pi may be one of the most perfect adaptations of a novel that has ever been put to the big screen. The film hits every important mark the novel did, and adds to it a rich visual presentation that grips you with it's intensity, and a great performance by the film's lead actor.

Life of Pi opens up with an author looking to hear the story of an Indian man living in Canada, a story that he has been told will make him 'believe in God.' As Piscine Molitar Patel (or Pi, for short) begins the story of his upbringing in India, of his atheist father and Hindu mother, of how he came to be a practitioner of Hindu, Christianity, and Islam all at once, and his family's zoo, the movie takes its time setting up the world and story. It is so rare to see this sort of expert care and craftsmanship of world-building in a major motion picture these days. Though the film takes its time here, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. Even though nothing to me here was new, the characters that populate this world, and Pi himself, drew me in.

The plot really gets going when the family is forced to sell their animals and pack up and leave for Canada. When the Japanese cargo vessel carrying the Patel family and the zoo animals they plan to sell capsizes, Pi Patel finds himself on a lifeboat in the middle of the pacific ocean, a lifeboat occupied by himself, and a 450 pound adult bengal tiger. What follows is at once a man vs nature story on the level of Robinson Crusoe or The Old Man and the Sea, and a thought-provoking philosophical tour-de-force that is never once pretentious: The film brings up its ideas and questions through the action of the story. Never once does the reader of the novel or audience of this film feel talked down to. It is a great introduction to philosophy and study of religion for any young adult or teenager. And for adults, the story doesn't lose potency with age. What grips the viewer is Pi's own struggle to find a way to share such a small space with such a powerful, territorial animal that could take his head off any time it wanted to.

Of particular note is the intensity of how much of the movie was shot. I've read this novel three times. I know it like the back of my hand. Nothing was going to surprise me, and, yet, the way this film was shot had me on the edge of my seat and genuinely worried about the outcome. My fears that this movie would be dumbed down for general audiences or, worse, children were unfounded, for the film is often as brutal as it is beautiful--no doubt reflecting both the world Pi inhabits, as well as the begal tiger he shares it with (indeed, the very world we live in).

The novel is one of those reads which can be life-changing. It is a primary influence on me as a writer, and is one of the single-most important novels, I think, of this century. The film does not disappoint. Everything, from the opening, to the dialogue, to the beautiful visuals, to the mix of danger and wonderment, to the conclusion of the story which leaves the viewer pondering, not some innocuous open-ending like many movies try to do, but something for more intrinsic to themselves.

This is the movie that everyone should see. This is the movie that, sadly, is destined to be ignored. Please, if you have any appreciation for great film making, see Life of Pi. Also read it if you're up to it. It's a fascinating read, and it only helps one's appreciation of how well the movie adapted it and managed to hit every gripping, philosophical, and thought-provoking mark.

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Wow, excellent reviews! I wanted to see The Hobbit, but I wasn't sure about Life of Pi.  It really seemed overly hyped to me, but you've changed my mind :drsword:  I want to see both of these now, but as it is Christmas time and my budget is stretched thin, I'll have to wait till Netflix or HBO get them ;_;  Thanks!

Level 56
RMRK Junior
I'm glad I was able to change your mind. :) It's a movie I fear won't get the attention it deserves. It's odd that you say it is over-hyped, since I've seen absolutely no buzz for it at all. It was an expensive movie to make, more so because Ang Lee realized, like everyone in the world already knows, original lead actor for the movie Toby McGuire sucks. Also, he's white, so that would have been him in brown face. And he sucks. The movie was reshot with the relative unknown actor that did such a great job. Kudos to Ang Lee for standing up to the studio. With all the money that went into it, I can see them wanting to hype it.

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I did a book study of Life of Pi in grade 12, online, no class discussion or direction and it moved me, when I get some time I'll defintly watch it in theaters, your review served to  convince me more.

And as for the hobbit . . . Meh I didnt expect too much out of it to be honest