Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit’s Journey An Expected Tale

Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth has been a long time coming for Tolkien fans. The Hobbit had been tied up in so much red tape, that many wondered if the project would ever see the light of day. Now that the film is finally here, the discussion has moved from legal woes to the technology used to make the film, specifically the high frame rate, and the fact that the story has been broken up into three films. While I cannot speak to the hotly debated pros and cons of the high frame rate, as I saw the film in regular 3D, it is the trilogy aspect that will make or break most people’s view of the film.

Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit, the film’s prologue explains how the dwarf kingdom on the Lonely Mountain was overthrown by a gold loving dragon named Smaug. In doing so Smaug unknowingly comes into possession of the Arkenstone, a jewel of unknown power. Many consider the Lonely Mountain to be impenetrable, but the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has come across a map that indicates a secret door into the Mountain. Gandalf along with thirteen dwarves, lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Artimage) the heir of the dwarf kingdom, have come up with a plan to reclaim the dwarf’s land. In order for their plan to work, they will need one more in their troupe and this is where Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) comes in.

Residing in The Shire, Bilbo Baggins, while adventurous when he was younger, lives a peaceful existence in which he is more concerned about his mother’s fine china than he is about the events going in the world outside of The Shire. However, Gandalf believes that Bilbo possesses the “burglar” skills needed for their mission, even if Bilbo does not know it yet. Considering Bilbo’s small stature, and the fact that Smaug has never encountered a hobbit, he can get into many places unnoticed. Although reluctant to join at first, Bilbo eventually agrees to join the group though he has no idea of how large in scope this adventure will be.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film that, although entertaining and well constructed, will leave many feeling rather indifferent. While it is nice to revisit the visual splendor, and many familiar faces of Middle-earth, the stakes do not feel as significant as the journey the characters embark on. Part of this is due to the fact that if often feels like Jackson is padding the film to ensure that there is enough material for three films. At times Bilbo comes off as a secondary character in his own story. The film takes a long time establishing Bilbo’s relationship with the dwarves and whether or not he is worthy to be part of their group.

When the film is not following Bilbo, it tries to highlight the dwarves while also trying to establish connections with The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Though the film makes a valiant attempt to establish the dwarves, outside of Thorin, they are fairly indistinguishable. There are a few scenes that give the dwarves emotional weight, most notably during the songs which are a welcomed addition to the franchise, but they are fleeting at best. One can only assume that they will be developed in greater detail in the subsequent films.

Fans expecting an experience reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be not be disappointed as The Hobbit covers a lot of familiar ground. There are the sweeping shots of the Middle-earth landscape as characters run over the hills trying to evade the forces of evil. Familiar characters such as Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) all make appearances, as does Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the Ian Holm version of the older Bilbo. Jackson even reuses the eagles save the day moment, which was originally taken from The Hobbit text, though it does not feel as exciting this time around since it was already used in the previous trilogy. Even some of the major action sequences, such as the battle with the goblins, did not spark a new sense of wonder.

Fortunately Jackson’s ace in the hole, Gollum (Andy Serkis), still manage to evoke childlike glee, as he seems even more menacing now than he did in The Lord of the Rings. His sequence with Bilbo is one of the standout moments in the film. This is not to say that Jackson’s prequel does not find gold with the new characters. At first the addition of Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), an animal loving brown wizard with bird dropping in his hair, seems out of place. However, the character grows on you by time he is being chased by a horde of Orcs. McCoy does a solid job of providing comic relief while establishing the Sauron storyline for The Lord of the Rings.

At the end of the day Peter Jackson cannot be faulted for giving the fans of The Lord of the Rings films more of the same. However, this time around it feels as if something is missing. The Hobbit was originally written as a children’s book and Jackson does a good job of hitting the right tone. Unfortunately, the fact that he is stretching the book from two films to three leads to several disjointed moments. Unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit really does feel like an introductory film rather than a fully realized one. It is a film that relies heavily on the next two instalments, which is unfortunate since they will not arrive until 2013 and 2014 respectively. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is film that will entertain at times, but will not offer an experience that is truly memorable.


  1. I agree with most everything you wrote here. People expecting The Lord of the Rings may be a little disappointed. The Hobbit was for children, whereas LOTR was for adults. Jackson has made the movies the same way. This means that this Hobbit movie has several kind of silly moments in it, but this is the way it is supposed to be.

    I also agree that this feels a little padded, but then I liked the extended editions of the LOTR films.

    1. While I liked the extended editions of LOTR, there was an actual need for them. The rumor going around now is that Jackson has an additional 25 minutes that will be added to the An Unexpected Journey DVD. I honestly cannot see what else he could add to this film.

    2. Another 25 minutes? Wow. If that's true then I definitely agree with you on that. About the only thing I noticed that was "missing" was that in the book there were a few more riddles exchanged between Bilbo and Gollum.

  2. Good review CS. It's long and filled with exposition, as usual, but it's still pretty entertaining and fun to watch none the less. I just wish it wasn't being spread-out to three, freakin' movies.

    1. I think the film would have carried more emotional resonance had it just been two films. An Unexpected Journey was entertaining but, overall, I just felt indifferent to it. Of course this might change after I see how the story unfolds in the next installment.


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