A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 571 – The Hobbit (1977)

The Hobbit (1977) – September 22nd, 2011

I’m not sure which we bought first, this or the 1978 Lord of the Rings. This we have on VHS, so I suspect we’ve owned it for a while but I can’t say for certain. I know I bought Lord of the Rings at a library book sale, but I forget when. Regardless, we’ve been holding on to them for a while, waiting for today. Because today? Today is Hobbit Day. And since the first part of the new version is still over a year away, well, we started with this one. Happy Hobbit Day. Now, let’s sing some songs!

No, really, I’m totally serious. The songs are what I remember the most from this version. I suspect that the new one will have far less singing, even if Tolkien himself was prone to putting songs in his books. When my father read them to me he’d always skip the songs. “And then they sang a song… about breaking plates.” That’s what I got until I saw this. The song from the beginning of the movie really is in the book. I don’t think all of the songs in the movie are in the book, but they’re not all just tossed in there to make this into a musical. And hey, I have to admit, it was a successful thing for the movie if I remember the songs so clearly so long after last seeing this. It has to have been at least fifteen years.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, it’s a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, telling the story of Bilbo Baggins and how he came to have the One Ring in his possession at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. The story begins with Gandalf showing up in the Shire, maneuvering Bilbo into joining a group of Dwarves who are going on a quest to claim a huge pile of treasure from a dragon named Smaug. Gandalf claims Bilbo is a burglar, though he is no such thing, and off they all go. They have a number of little adventures on their way to the Lonely Mountain including Bilbo getting split off from the rest of the group and finding himself playing a game of riddles with a creature named Gollum. Up until then, Gollum had been the Ring’s owner, but Bilbo finds it on the ground in Gollum’s cave. Since wearing it renders one invisible, Bilbo finds it quite useful indeed as the rest of the story progresses. Eventually he faces off against Smaug, using his invisibility to make himself seem more formidable.

Towards the end there’s a big battle between the Men and Elves and the Goblins and it’s always felt a little lacking to me. I’d need to look at the book to determine if it really is, but if I’ve got three armies on a field I want grandeur and I’ve never quite gotten it from this movie. Also, I’m not entirely thrilled with the visual depictions of the Elves and Goblins. The Elves were supposed to be the first residents of Middle Earth, wisest and most beautiful and graceful. And instead we have these blueish-green dudes with spindly arms and legs, knobbly joints and oddly bulbous heads. The Goblins all remind me a little of Snarf from Thundercats, which is also a Rankin and Bass production so I suppose that at least makes sense. Come to think of it, that likeness also applies to Smaug so now it makes sense that I’ve always considered him somewhat feline in looks. Now, the Dwarves and Bilbo? I can totally get on board with all of them. Gandalf too, and Gollum. So I suppose I shouldn’t get too bogged down by the Goblins and the Elves, since the movie’s focus is on Bilbo and the Dwarves.
Overall, I do enjoy this movie. It’s cheesy and it’s got some questionable visual depictions, but it’s also got some serious nostalgia for me. I’m afraid I don’t have much more to say about it aside from that. It’s not masterfully made and despite having had the Fifteen Birds song stuck in my head since we watched it, I’d probably have to say I prefer my father’s way of dealing with the songs better. But I do like Bilbo and the Dwarves. And I do like Smaug, likeness to Snarf notwithstanding. It hits the major plot points that I remember and does do decently enough. I don’t think I’d use it to introduce any kids to the story these days, and I’m glad I was introduced to it through the book well before I watched this movie. But all that being said, I’m glad we own it.

September 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

The Hobbit (1977)

September 22, 2011

The Hobbit

To celebrate Hobbit Day this year we’ve chosen to start watching the three animated Tolkien movies we have in our collection. Tonight is the Rankin/Bass Hobbit. Both Amanda and I have fond memories of our fathers reading to us from The Hobbit as children. This tale of a simple Hobbit plucked from the comfort of his hole for a grand adventure is one of those iconic stories that defines my childhood. Here, as illustration, is a picture of me dressed as Thorin Okenshield for Halloween in 1979:

Andy as Thorin

So naturally this movie is a thing of great nostalgia for me. More for the story than for the film itself.

I will say that as we watched tonight it struck me how rapidly the story of the Hobbit was told here. The way this book is put together is very episodic – each chapter is its own quick adventure. This works wonderfully for a bedtime story if you’re hearing a chapter or two each night, but compressed into the timeline of a TV movie it felt rushed to me. Each episode was compressed into just a couple of minutes: the dinner, the trolls, Elrond, the storm in the mountains, fleeing from the trolls and being rescued by the eagles, Mirkwood and the spiders, the elves and escaping by river… it is almost overwhelming. The movie does slow down and allow a couple scenes to play out at length, and I feel like those are its strongest moments.

The first time the movie pauses is for the Riddles in the Dark chapter with Bilbo and Gollum. It allows most of the riddles to be told in full (although one is presented as a song – which is in keeping with the rest of this movie but seems a little strange and the one about the thirty-two white horses is missing.) I like having a little bit of a breather there before it’s back into the rapidfire attempt to fit more bits of the book into a very short space. Then the film pauses again for the interaction between Bilbo and Smaug, which is also a lot of fun.

Part of the reason that things feel so disjointed and hurried I think is that the animation budget for the film really didn’t include enough to have actual action scenes. It’s very strange. There are a couple places which clearly call for action, but instead involve flashy light-show overlays while still pictures spin around. I think this contributes to the jumpy nature of the film because you want there to be some action to provide resolution to the events of a particular chapter, but instead there’s a strange interlude, and then the movie dives directly into a completely different scene.

It has been many years since I last watched this adaptation, but it’s a film with a very distinctive style that sticks with you. The design of the characters can be largely summed up in a single word: noses. Seriously – these characters are all gigantic schnozes with faces tucked in somewhere behind them. I suppose it works for the most part, and it allows the characters to be distinctively non-human. It also fits the artistic style of the film. The gorgeous water color backgrounds that portray the world of Middle Earth really need a strong feel for the characters that will inhabit it, and the movie delivers on that very well.

The other lasting impression of this movie comes from the many, many songs. From “we must away ‘ere break of day” when the dwarfs meet Bilbo to the “greatest adventure” over the opening credits this movie sets the stage for there to be a song of some sort over just about every scene. Most of them come from the poems Tolkien littered the book with, so I suppose they’re faithful to the source material.

Anyhow, this is a distinctive and memorable adaptation of a little piece of my childhood – even if it does feel badly rushed a lot of the time. I was interested to note that the movie does a lot of setting up for the Lord of the Rings right at the end, particularly in light of the fact that Rankin/Bass did not actually end up making the animated Lord of the Rings movie that we are going to watch tomorrow – although they did get to do the conclusion to the series.

September 22, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment