A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,

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