Monday, December 17, 2012

An Unexpected Journey (for a Parent)

Almost two years ago to the day, I began a series of posts to document my experience of reading The Hobbit aloud to me two young boys. It was a wonderful experience in many ways. Not only did it rekindle my adoration for the book and open my eyes to the similarities of Bilbo's adventure to all that is good about old school Dungeons & Dragons, but it was also one of the first big steps in my efforts to share my love of fantasy with my boys boys. The actual reading took many months. My boys were five and three years of age when we sat down to do the reading and there were many questions and digressions as we worked our way through the text. But they really loved it and even now, two years later, they still remember specific scenes.

So, given that context, how could I not take them to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? Unfortunately, there was one hitch. The movie was rated PG-13. My wife and I (my wife especially) raised concerns that it might not be appropriate for small children. I poured over early reviews and IMDB's parent's guide, hoping that the rating wasn't justified. But I saw what I wanted to see and given that my boys did fine with other "adventure movies with cartoon violence" on our own TV, I thought it would be ok. After all, I remember when my father took me to see Star Wars when I was only six years old. It was one of the formative experiences in my life. I wanted the boys to have something similar.

Alas, the movie earns its PG-13 rating and my five year-old spent a good portion of the movie under a blanket. My seven-year-old did much better, but there are certain scenes that we had to shield him from.

And here's where I may need to get into SPOILER territory. Whereas Tolkien's books was definitely aimed at children, the movie is most decidedly *not*. Funny thing is, the problematic scenes all involve additions to the original text. By that, I mean:

  • Everything relating to Azog the white Orc
  • The addition of a rather frightening scene of Radagast investigating Dol Guldur
Yes, Goblin town was a bit much much as well, but that was expected and most violence was not close up and the Goblin King wasn't really scary. But, and I've read this in other reviews, Azog was something out of 300.


So yes, my enjoyment of the film was tempered by my need to be vigilant about monitoring things for my kids. Fortunately, the movie did telegraph potential problems pretty well. I think we caught all instances of places where it was about to get inappropriate. If you are a parent and I thinking of taking young kids (my advice: definitely not if they are younger than 7) then watch for the following:

  • Bilbo's prologue about Smaug's attack on Dale is a little scary.
  • The bloody backstory that introduces Azog occurs when the company first makes camp after leaving the Shire, just before the Troll encounter.
  • The Troll encounter itself is pretty safe.
  • The Radagast scene only gets scary when he steps foot into Dol Guldur
  • Azog and his wargs attack the party after Radagast relates his story. And though this one is mostly from a distance, the initial attack can be startling.
  • Azog has a scene before Goblin Town as he berates his minions for failing to get the dwarves. 
  • Yes, there is Goblin Town proper. In HFR IMAX, it can be a little intense and there are a couple of startling scenes (like right after Bilbo gets separated). Not much gore, though, aside from the Goblin King taking a sword across his belly. 
  • Gollum clubs an goblin repeatedly in the head. Gollum itself might be frightening to kids, but my boys had scene enough clips of him ahead of time to be ok with it.
  • Azog shows up again when the company emerges from the mountains. There isn't any gore here, but I found that Azog himself was the most frightening element. 
Ok, so that's a parent's perspective. But did I actually like the movie? And how was the HFR experience?

Short answers: Yes, I did like the movie (though I have reservations). HFR was a little weird, but I found it to be more interesting/curious than anything else. It really added to some scenes and detracted from some others. The biggest problem is that scenes that take place on interior sets really look like they take place on interior sets. Some sets are awesome (Bag End) while other not so much (Dale, Dol Guldur, Rivendell). But actions scenes really do sparkle. 

I made a wise choice in pre-adjusting myself to HFR by checking out videos here. My first reaction was BBC drama or HD stage theater. I continued to have that reaction all the way through Bilbo's prologue. But by the time we flashed back to young Bilbo, I was pretty much adjusted.


Robo said...

I wish I had read this before I took my kids. My eleven-year-old was fine, but my six-year-old spent much of the film cringing in my lap. Your assessment is dead-on.

DonsSword said...

Skip IMDB, go to They will detail all the gore and naughty bits for you. I have been going there for years:

GeneD5 said...

I'm glad you enjoyed Part 1 of The Hobbit, despite having to shield your children from certain scenes. Unfortunately, what's not violent enough for some people (including my nephews) is too much for other audiences. I agree about the divergence from the text and tone of the original book.

I also enjoyed the movie, which I saw in old-fashioned, non-IMAX 2-D. I am curious about the high frame rate, and your idea of preparing for it is a good one. The road goes ever on....

Tim Ballew said...

@Robo: Yeah, feeling guilty about scaring your kid really detracts from the experience. Fortunately, my five year old hasn't had any nightmares or anything. And my seven-year-old really enjoyed it.

@DonsSword: That's a great site, thanks!

@GeneD5: I definitely recommend acclimatizing yourself to HFR before seeing it. As for the tone... I keep thinking on that and may post more on the subject. I had the same reaction to the Hobbit as I did Watchmen for almost the same reasons. It was a strong mixed reaction. I both loved it and was extremely annoyed with it - which is rare. And like Watchmen, I'll end up owning it and rewatching it a ton, despite my problems with the director's choices.

Greg said...

Well, the good thing about it is, if your kids aren't old enough for it when they movie starts, they will be by the time it's over.

(Geez, people, I normally like long movies, but I wasn't expecting them to chronicle the journey to the Lonely Mountain IN REAL TIME.)

Tim Ballew said...

@Greg: I'm sort of with you, but the length didn't bother me too much. It's more of the idea that they needed to stretch this into three movies that bothered me. I can *maybe* see two movie. But it really should have been one. Breaking it up kind of messes with Bilbo's character arc. In the book, he doesn't kick ass until Mirkwood. But in the movie, he charged into battle while the dwarves were stuck up a burning tree.

Srith of the Scrolls said...

I hate to sound like one of my friends who believes all movies should be made verbatim per the original book, but in this case I think the movie version would have been better served following the main outline of the book and keeping it to one film. Also, if it had played along with the tone of the Hobbit and played up to youngsters, it would have had a better chance at capturing the charm and magic of the story.

I loved what Peter Jackson did with the Lord of the Rings, but here I think he missed the mark.

Just my humble opinion.

Tim Ballew said...

@Srith: I'm right there with you. The best parts if the movie were the parts that did seem to evoke the book. The added bits... Not so much. Yes, I think this was a missed opportunity. I still *liked* the movie, but just a few different choices and it could have been brilliant.

Tori Bergquist said...

My child is almost two, so I have a few years to go before this is a concern for me, but it's good to hear stories, advice and suggestions in anticipation for the future! I do recall my early years...I also saw Star Wars at age 6 and it had a deep impression on me (as it did so many), but a couple years later my father also took me to see Alien, and that movie had just as profound an effect on me; being unexpectedly introduced to such an intense horror film by age 8 definitely had a long term impact on me, I suspect, and may explain my continuing interest in horror all these years later. No idea if that is a good thing or not, though...!

Tim Ballew said...

Tori, oh my. I didn't see Alien until hit I hit my teens. But I could see how it could something to you. ;)