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.

A Catholic college in Big Sky country

As Melanie said when she watched this video, “It makes me want to move to Wyoming and go to Wyoming Catholic College”, and yet she’s a Texas girl who hates winter, so you know it must be good. I think it’s very stirring with great cinematics as we’ve come to expect from the great filmmakers at Grassroots Films.


Strategically re-assessing your parish, diocesan, or ministry website

This one is for those with an interest in website development and management, especially with regard to Catholic parishes, dioceses, or other ministries and non-profits.

A common principle in website management for businesses and organizations is periodic assessment of the site to ensure that it’s meeting strategic goals (you have strategic goals, right?) and that it is up to date with current web standards (for example, no more blink tags or whether to replace Flash with HTML5/CSS3 animations). It’s also important to make sure that it doesn’t feel too dated, i.e. when grunge goes out of style that your site’s theme leaves grunge behind too.

How often should parishes, dioceses, and ministries re-evaluate their sites? I know there are plenty of parish websites who are still rocking the late ’90s with “under construction” animated GIFs, busy backgrounds, and non-CSS, table-based layouts and it’s obviously past time for them. But what about the site we created three years ago, or today for that matter? When should we begin a strategic re-evaluation of it?

My first thought, based on the current pace of change on the web, is that it should be no longer than every 6 years. If you have a site whose design and basic content date to 2005, you should look at whether it’s time to re-design and/or upgrade. With HTML5, CSS3, and today’s advanced standards-compliant web browsers, now is as good a time as ever.

What about a site built today? I think in six years, the web will have a very different landscape. By then I think mobile platforms—i.e. tablets and phones—will have a very large influence on web design and the web experience. Perhaps mobile apps will be more important as well. Social media is certain to be different. After all, in 2005 Facebook was still limited to college students and MySpace was the big social network. The web moves fast.

So what do you say? How often should a parish, diocese or ministry do a strategic re-evaluation of their website design, content, and goals?


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.