Originally Posted by Greg Clark
Yeah, holy shit you guys, I don't see how people aren't seeing the massive, massive pacing problems this film is boasting. Some say it picks up after they leave the Shire, but the time it takes to Rivendell really feels like even more of a slog, since it's mostly just a bunch of arch and droning conversations about things that have nothing to do with the task at hand. I'm a fairly big Tolkien nut, but I'm also more of a student of narrative, and this one's engine is dangerously close to throwing a rod. There feels like there's more setup and focused on Azog and Thorin than the actual quest, or the actual main character, Bilbo.
For every Radagast-- whose presence here really does have nothing to do with Erebor, but rather with the return of Sauron (more on that later)-- there's a Dwarf/Orc war that, while irrelevant to the quest for the Arkenstone, does build up Thorin and flesh him out as a character. For every scene of Azog, there's a scene where Thorin scoffs at Bilbo and disdains his presence on the quest (and I'd argue that this first film is primarily about Bilbo coming to gain recognition and acceptance from the dwarves, and specifically Thorin). I don't necessarily disagree that there's a lot of non-Hobbit stuff here, but I think it's quite incorrect to argue that more of An Unexpected Journey is devoted to such material over Bilbo's story and the journey to the Misty Mountain, and I'd also point out that The Hobbit films feel a lot like they're intended as bridge films to establish continuity between the two trilogies while also spinning Bilbo's tale.
I don't completely disagree about pacing-- the White Council scene is really, really, really stilted and needed to be trimmed, and the opening that occurs just prior to Fellowship should have been cut completely-- but if you want to talk about the characters getting on "the quest proper", well, look at the source material again. We're at chapter six (roughly) by the time the film ends, and they've only just gotten Erebor in their sights, but that's just a matter of their fortune, but we both know that. What I really think is incorrect is the assertion that the pacing disrupts that episodic structure in which one bad situation ends only to drop the heroes in another; here, they go from being troll food, to being chased by orcs, to being surrounded by armed Elves, to being helplessly caught in a battle between stone giants, to being captured by goblins, to being cornered by those same orcs from before. There's padding in between this, but it's minimal, character moments like Bofur wishing Bilbo well or the dwarves staring in disgust at green food in Rivendell. The majority of the film's bloat occurs in that opening forty five minutes/hour. I mean, really, once the company gets captured by trolls, there's not a whole lot of "stuff" filling the gaps in between each unfortunate event that befalls them-- apart from Gandalf and Galadriel eye-fucking each other or Radagst being wacky, though we agree that the former represents the biggest fan service of the film and I happen to think that the presence of the latter presents minimal interruption to the important stuff.
As far as stakes go, the film makes it really clear what's at stake for everybody involves here. For the dwarves, especially Thorin, pride and ancestry is at stake; Thorin's entire arc is predicated on his wish to reestablish "home" for his people and avenge his forebears, to the point where he says almost word for word that he doesn't have a choice in the matter. For Bilbo, his reputation is at stake; he's a halfling, not one prone to adventure but one with an adventurous heart who forces himself into a dangerous enterprise with much hardier, more experienced travelers and adventurers. Here, he's questing after acceptance and personal worth. For Gandalf, everything is at stake; he's the guy quietly greasing the wheels here, and if the venture ends fatally, he'll be to blame. More than that, the safety of Middle Earth's peace is at stake, and he's basically the only person in the entire world who realizes as much (aside from Radagast, who everyone thinks is a nutter, and Galadriel, who has too much propriety to tell Saruman to suck it during the White Council meeting even though she basically knows Gandalf is totally right). There isn't one, big, unifying "thing" at stake as in Rings, but there are smaller, more personal, more intimate things at stake, and I'd say that that's appropriate for The Hobbit-- a book and a story that really shouldn't be compared to Rings no matter how much it informs that series' events.
I'm also not sure how we're not given enough time to invest in Bilbo. We spend more time with him than any other character in the film. We see him make his decisions both to join the company and to attempt to depart, we see him gaze in wonder at Sting the first time he holds it in his hands, we see him struggle at every moment to make himself valuable to a group of worldly, battle-tested dwarves (at least, they're more worldly and battle-tested than Bilbo), we see him take in every bit of scenery around him with the same wonder we accord the setting as the audience. It's not as though we're being short-changed in Bilbo Time here. This movie is almost entirely about him.
Originally Posted by stelios
He didn't hamstring Bilbo's arc, he accelerated it so it could fit in the movie. Which is a weird complaint to make considering "Nothing of consequence happens" was your previous one.
I had it in my head to say something along these lines. Greg, didn't you opine that the film wouldn't give Bilbo a full arc if it didn't end with the spiders in Mirkwood? All that Jackson's doing here is providing Bilbo with precisely what he needs, a complete transformation from beginning to end. That's not his arc being hamstrung. That's his arc being honored and kept intact.
One note regarding Thorin and the flaming slow-mo tree walk: everyone's up a tree screaming out of fear of death because it really kinda seems like they're fucked here. If Gandalf wasn't in that tree with them, they probably all would have been cool as cucumbers, but with their resident wizard stuck up shit's creek (tree?) with them, they don't have any outs. So they're all experiencing that lovely pants-shitting terror one experiences before they die, because they probably all think they're going to die.
So Thorin takes a walk. What else is he going to do? Hang out in a tree and plummet to his doom? He can either die with his enemy's head in his hands, or he can die being crushed against a ravine while that same enemy's head remains attached to his shoulders. I know which one sounds more attractive to me, and Thorin clearly thinks like I do, therefore he tries to kill Azog instead of just laying down and dying.
Everything that follows should make plenty of sense if you've ever watched a movie about men on a mission before: Bilbo, desperate to prove himself to Thorin (because every other dwarf basically digs Bilbo at that point), saves the prince's life. The rest of the dwarves, inspired by Thorin's bravery and Bilbo's heroism, rush out to die with their axes in their hands. And then Jackson puts a bird on it, and eagles kill orcs. It's sword-and-sandals fantasy 101.