Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit book that started it allMelanie and I took advantage of having her mom with us and not yet having a newborn baby to go to the movies, something we don’t ever get to do. I think the last movie we saw in a theater was the Star Trek reboot in 2009. So this time, we went to the matinée of The Hobbit in IMAX 3D at the local theater.

To put my remarks in perspective, I will point you to the photo accompanying this post. It’s a photo of a 36-year-old copy of The Hobbit. When I was eight, I saw it sitting on my mother’s bedside nighttable and picked it up, thus changing my life from that moment. Over the next two decades I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings several dozen times, as well as The Silmarillion, the 12-volume Histories of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, the Children of Hurin, etc. I am a devourer of Tolkien’s literary opus magnus on Middle Earth. Not only that, but the book also launched me on a lifelong love of the genre, which admittedly has resulted in plenty of not-so-good imitators and very few almost-as-good novels.

So when I say I approach this film differently from many movie fans, that’s what I mean. The obvious question is whether I liked the movie. Having heard so many disappointed reviews I was braced for the worst, but I did recognize going in that those who I knew were Tolkien fans like me had given it high marks.

First, I know I sound like an old man, but when did movies get so loud? Right from the first trailer, I actually had to hold one hand over an ear at times. Second, while I enjoyed the IMAX 3D experience, Melanie did not and made me promise for the second and third movies that there would be no 3D. She said it makes it seem blurry to her.

As for the movie itself, I liked it. I thought the addition of the material from appendices was a good move. In a sense the director Peter Jackson isn’t making The Hobbit, per se. He’s making a movie that fills in the gaps in the story of the War of the Ring at the End of the Third Age that the first three movies did not tell. I’m okay with that.

I saw some didn’t like the more playful elements, like the Dwarves throwing the dishes at Bilbo’s home or the Goblin King’s too-humanness or Radagast’s oddities or the three trolls’ vaudevillian act. All those scenes are true to Tolkien’s original story and in fact, in some cases I think Jackson could have gone further. I genuinely missed Bilbo’s tricking the trolls with the different voices, not to mention their names: Tom, Bert, and William. But he also changed the substance of the scene, where the book has Bilbo getting entangled with the trolls because he wants to prove himself as the burglar he was hired to be.

Of course, being a big-budget blockbuster, there has to be plenty of action, a lot more than the book offered. Melanie counted at least six literal cliffhanger scenes (someone actually clinging to a cliff) and a whole lot more pitched battles. I suppose I also accept the presence of Azog the Orc. I can see the filmmaker’s need–where the novelist had none–to have an antagonist to thread throughout the story against our protagonists. As others have pointed out, the book is very episodic and not a continuous story, like The Lord of the Rings. You can tell it was composed as a series of bedtime tales that thread together. Thus Jackson needed something to unite all the episodes across three movies. I think this method will do.

If I were to be a strict adherent to Tolkien, I would be more disturbed by the places that diverged from the book, especially where such divergence didn’t seem necessary for the medium. But that’s not me. I can appreciate the movie on its own terms and as a creative work separate but related to Tolkien’s, a sibling artwork, if you will.

Finally, I’ll leave you with these final thoughts. Every time I saw a sweeping vista or the framing of an iconic place in the story, whether it was Hobbiton or the Misty Mountains or Erebor, I was caught up in the joy of seeing it for real. Of course, I know intellectually that it’s not really Middle Earth, but some location in New Zealand. And yet, it also seems real. As a boy, I lived in Middle Earth in some sense, or it inhabited me. I pored over those books and over every map and companion guide I could get my hands on. I knew every corner of the place. And now here before me in glorious IMAX those places have come to life. In that theater, I felt the old yearning I had as a boy to be there, to go there and back again, if you will. And perhaps it’s The Hobbit’s ability to elicit that fundamental response in me that let’s this fan boy say, I really, really liked this movie.

Pats’ fan Moms at Mass

Patriots fan face painting

I’ve noticed a trend in the last couple of weeks of moms of school-age kids showing up to Mass in jeans and Patriots jerseys. Now, people dress down all year ’round, not just during football season, and men and children are dressed down just as frequently. So why is it that these jersey-wearing moms stand out so much?

Maybe I just expect more from your average mom than going to Mass looking like you’re heading to the sports bar for the game (and I do think the outfits are entirely appropriate in that context). I think of moms as being the ones who set the standard for our appearances in public. So when they just as slovenly and out of place, it strikes me as especially odd.

Melanie’s theory–which addresses general slovenly dress– is that many women don’t have appropriate dress clothes anymore, that dress clothes are those more appropriate for a night of clubbing than Sunday morning church. It’s possible. Certainly I found that to be true of high school girls when I was leading Confirmation preparation in a parish. We had to give exact instructions to the girls about the outfits to wear to Mass or they’d show up in low-cut, off-the-shoulder blouses and mini-skirts.

What’s especially bizarre is that these are the 15% motivated to actually come to Mass on Sunday morning.

Photo by bearklektor, on Flickr

A Day at the (Ren) Faire

King Richard's Faire

We went to King Richard’s Faire on Saturday. It’s a classic Reniassance fair which has been operating in the town of Carver, south of Boston, for the past 31 years. It’s quite an operation these days, with permanent structures that stay up year round and a huge staff of performers and behind-the-scenes workers.

We went two years ago because we got a good deal on a Groupon, which is good because the whole deal is so expensive. Normally, adult tickets are $27 each and kids 4–11 are $15.[1] Well we got the same deal again this year which was two adult tickets for $29. So we spent about $45 to get in.

Of course, the spending doesn’t end there. The food prices are exorbitant, especially for the quality of what you’re getting. And they do this food ticket thing which hides the actual price of the item at the time of purchase and also lets them require minimum purchases. You end up buying more tickets than you need and there are no refunds on unused tickets.[2] Plus other fees for games and mazes and rides. It adds up quickly.

We tried to circumvent the overspending by bringing our lunch, because it doesn’t say anywhere on their website that you can’t bring in outside food. Alas, that sign is on the front gate. Likewise the notice that they don’t take credit cards for tickets is buried on the site. But they do have handy ATMs… with a $3.00 surcharge.

Nevertheless we did have some fun… after we realized in the parking lot, following our one hour drive, that we’d forgotten the diaper bag at home. Luckily, we’d packed the sippy cups separately and Melanie had put one emergency diaper and wipes in the glove box just the other day. We decided to brave it and it turned out okay.

Oh yeah, the fun. Of course, the jousting is the big deal. Knights on horseback crashing into one another at full tilt. It’s all playacting, I know, but Isabella and Sophia loved it. I think the galloping horses were the highlight for Sophia. Ben, however, did not like the noise of the accompanying drums and cymbals nor the spray of sand and hay as the horses galloped past. Melanie had to take him out in the middle of the event.

We also spent time wandering from place to place, seeing the occasional humorous show put on by performers doing a comedy bit with swordplay or jugglers or a storyteller. The girls especially loved the princess academy where they got to meet the princess and her court and learn courtly manners and then meet the queen herself.

The Ren Faire Phenomenon

There was also lots of opportunity for people watching. It’s a curious thing, these Ren faires. Lots of people were in costumes of all kinds and of varying levels of authenticity with most not very authentic at all. It was fun to see people in out-of-the-ordinary period costumes like the Saracen and the Scottish Highlander. On the other hand, there was an inordinate number of pirates, pointy-eared elves, and even a family of vampires(?).

But one thing that really stood out to me was the unbalanced ratio of bawdy wenches to noble ladies. In fact, it was more like 30 to one. For every woman in a demure dress designed to make her look like a woman of noble bearing from the Middle Ages, there were a couple of dozen in dresses designed to make their breasts hang out. (It’s such a phenomenon that this weekend they held a cleavage contest for best, well, you know.) What is it that makes women prefer to be wenches instead of ladies? Women used to (and some still do) want to be pursued by a gentleman instead of throwing themselves as a sex object at every man.

General bawdiness actually seemed to be the rule at the fair. Even in shows aimed at children there were oblique sex jokes and liberal use of the words “damn” and “ass”. (I just know this post is going to make some people’s Internet filters block my blog.)

Thine Elephant in Ye Olde Roome

I wonder if some of that stems from what was distinctly lacking from a fair designed to portray life in Medieval or Renaissance England[3]: any mention of the Christian faith.

The Church was a major part of life in those centuries, even including the Protestant churches after the Reformation, so what happens when you excise it? You end up with an idealized view based on an anti-authoritarian wish fulfilment. Let’s face it: Ren faires grew out of the Sixties hippy movement, a rejection of authority and a harkening back to an imagined time of free love and unbridled fun. Likewise, I think the accompanying fascination with the occult and Wiccanism is part of that. In the Middle Ages, anti-authoritarianism still looked pretty much Christian, but that’s still too Christian for today, so it’s something even further afield. Which isn’t too say that there wasn’t evidence of the Christian roots of merry olde England, whether it’s the knights’ cheers of “For God and King!” or the subtle pattern of the Chi Rho embroidered in the queen’s gown.

In the end, however, King Richard’s Faire was mainly good, if expensive, fun and a chance to glimpse a different reality for a day. I do have to say in conclusion that it wouldn’t take a lot of encouragement to get me to start re-enacting in that world, although I think I would tend toward the SCA’s authenticity over the Ren faire’s loosey-goosey attitude. If you’re going to do it, re-enact authentically.

  1. Do the math and you realize pre-teens and teens get charged the full adult rate!  ↩


  3. The tickets are 50 cents a piece and you must buy at least $5 worth at a time. A sheet of 40 tickets is $20. Meanwhile, french fries are 12 tickets and a sandwich is 16 and two ice cream cones is 18 because I have all these extra tickets and what do I do with this 1 extra ticket left over at the end? Oh well, it’s non-refundable so something was 50 cents more expensive today.  ↩


  5. They aren’t exactly clear on their time period and even the regular players are mish mash of different eras and even different societies. I suppose the reality–no pun intended–is that it’s really a fairy tale period and not supposed to be any particular real time. This isn’t the Society for Creative Anachronism with its penchant for accurate re-enactment. It’s a theme park.  ↩


Photo from Flickr user C.C. Chapman. Used under a Creative Commons license.


Rudy Favard is a Hero

Now, this is the type of story you want to see more of. A football player at Malden Catholic High School here in the Boston area has become a hero to a family of a boy with cerebral palsy by the simple act of carrying the boy to his room each night.

Rudy Favard was a stranger to the Parker family when he was recruited by the school nurse to go four nights a week to their home. Rick Parker, the dad, used to carry his son every night up 14 steep stairs to the boy’s bedroom, but after a cardiac-related illness, he was no longer able. Rudy, and his two backups from the school, started helping out and Rudy has now become almost like one of the family. Click through to the story to watch the video clip and see how much love there is between the big strong son of Haitain immigrants, the captain of the football team, and the small, withered boy who waits on the mercy of those he depends on.

Rudy is just the type of role-model athlete we hope for when our kids look up to sports players. The reporter asks how many teens would do the same, and I’m happy to say I know of several of my nephews who would do the same. That reflects well on both the boys and their parents.

Good for Rudy and the Parkers. God bless them.


Memo to Steve Buckley: We Don’t Care

Thursday’s Boston Herald devoted a full-page in its news section to a self-serving and irrelevant column in which one of its sports writers revealed himself as having homosexual inclination. So what?

I cannot believe the newspaper wasted a full-page on this. It’s just more of the typical narcissistic navel-gazing of the homosexual culture that thinks that anybody besides themselves care whether they’re gay or not. (In fact, before it backtracked on its scientific responsibility, the American Psychiatric Association used to classift homosexual inclination as a narcissistic disorder.) And today, there’s another article highlighting how all the enlightened politically correct types are running to say how wonderful this public revelation is.

Frankly, there was no point to it. If Steve Buckley felt it necessary to tell his family and friends and co-workers about it, that’s his business. But there’s no reason to put it in the newspaper as if it was news. There was no compelling reason that anyone else had to know, except for the standard “we have to make everyone accept homosexuality by trumpeting how normal it is.” If it was so normal, you wouldn’t have to browbeat and brainwash people into thinking it’s normal.

What a sad and pathetic display. I guess it’s part of the culture today where every sordid detail of one’s life gets played out on Twitter and Facebook. I’d rather we all stopped. Melanie and I may blog and write online about our kids and being parents and some tidbits of our day, but there’s no way we’re going to impose our personal and intimate lives on everyone else. But when you’re a celebrity (or a gay sports writer, in this case), I guess you think everyone’s just dying to know. Trust me, we’re not.