California Literary Review

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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December 15th, 2012 at 7:59 pm

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THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, l-r: Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Martin Freeman

Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
Photo: James Fisher/©Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Poster: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by Peter Jackson
Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro

Starring:
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

How long is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? 169 minutes.
What is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rated? PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

CLR Rating: ★★★½☆


An Expected, Belabored, But Still Fun Adventure

If there’s one thing you can say about Peter Jackson, it’s that he loves Middle Earth. It’s difficult to think of other filmmakers who revel as much in spending time in the universes they create as Jackson does with his adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic collection of novels. This pleasure is palpable throughout The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and at least gives some artistic credence to the story’s bloat to three movies.

For those unaware, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first part of a prequel trilogy to Lord of the Rings. One book at approximately 300 pages, Tolkien’s 1937 work The Hobbit tells of how Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, reprising his role) chooses the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, The Office (UK), Sherlock) to join him on an adventure. Initially reluctant, the homebody, well, holebody Baggins is essentially drafted by Gandalf to serve as the burglar for a gang of 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Seeking to reclaim their home and treasure from the dragon Smaug, the group heads to their former home Erebor and encounter orcs, giant spiders, shapeshifting men, and, of course, Gollum (the scene-stealing Andy Serkis, reprising his role).

Although The Hobbit in live action was originally planned to be an understandable two films, Jackson used appendices and other sources to create so many extra scenes not in the original novel that it “needed” to become a trilogy. While I would like to say that the additions added depth to a relatively simple novel, the positives of their inclusion often seem matched or even outweighed by their length and apparent pointlessness.

Admittedly, many of the “problems” of the movie are “problems” of the book. With the exception of Thorin, none of the other dwarves has much of a discernible personality. The adventures they go on lack weight. Unlike in Lord of the Rings where each encounter or battle increased in intensity and importance, these segments become very repetitive in The Hobbit. The group travels towards the Lonely Mountain, fight orcs or goblins in a fast-paced action sequence, and move on to fight orcs or goblins in another fast-paced action sequence. As they barrel through bands upon bands of villains, the lack of stakes become more apparent and the threat of danger is severely minimized. While these issues aren’t that bothersome in a brisk action-adventure fantasy novel, they do become cause for concern when we’re expected to spend ~ 9 hours watching it.

Much of the stuff that Peter Jackson adds similarly seems unimportant, though maybe it will provide greater returns with the following two sequels. A post-opening/pre-plot sequence showing old Bilbo (Ian Holm) writing “The Hobbit, or: There and Back Again” on the day of his long expected party is certainly cute, a love letter to fans of the series. It’s nice to return to the Shire and see Frodo putting up the “No Admittance except on Official Party Business” sign, but it doesn’t feel essential and overstays its welcome. A council with Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) discussing the journey certainly expands the adventure beyond the confines of the original book, but Gandalf mentioning that he feels a greater danger a-brewing (probably the unnamed Sauron) only highlights just how minor the quest we’re watching is. The wisdom of adding Gandalf’s fellow wizard and cousin Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) is still up in the air.

However, these negatives aside, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is still a remarkable achievement. Although all the performances are at the very least good, Freeman is superb as Bilbo Baggins. He brings a thoughtful, wry humor to the oft-nervous character, and the film loses something when he’s not on screen. Instead of competing with the epicness of Lord of the Rings, showing it more consistently from the point of view of someone way out of his league might have provided an interesting contrast. Jackson also gives increased importance to Azog, a Goblin King whom slayed Thorin’s grandfather and whose hand Thorin cut off. Dead by the start of the novel, in the film, he trails the dwarf party seeking vengeance. Even though his existence might appear a bit forced, a secondary recurring villain such as he is missing in the original novels but will probably work on a movie screen.

As expected, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is fantastic visually, and once again Middle Earth truly comes to life. There is a gloriously epic quality to this film and a sense of fun that is rare in so many other big-budget blockbusters. It’s disappointing that Jackson’s affection towards this land led him to overwhelm it with footnotes. At a brisker pace with more plot movement, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey could have been a welcome addition to the One Ring Saga. Unfortunately, something feels off and dawdling about this film; though thankfully, he didn’t Lucas it. One hopes The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again will provide more strength to this uneven chapter.

Of course, this review would be remiss without a discussion of 48 fps, the high frame resolution being used by Peter Jackson to present the movie. Initially, the film looks as though it is moving in 1.5x speed while the sound sounds normal. As the movie progresses, I found myself growing more accustomed to it, but every once in a while the 1.5x speed weirdness would reemerge. Regardless, the level of clarity and detail in 48 fps definitely adds to the experience, and I recommend seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in this format.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Trailer

  • parsonbrown11

    Good review. One clarification, I think azog slays the grandfather because the father gives Gandalf the map and key in the dungeons of the Necromancer and dies there. This should have been made clear by what Jackson is padding woth backstory, there is mention of the dad wandering off broken hearted after the fther is killed as told by dwalin i think, that’s a minus point for jackson…..if youre gping to embelish at least make it clear. I’ve seen it twice, once in 24fps and another 24fps with 3d, the 3d really enhanced the film.
    Long prologue, slow plot movement….making an Aragorn out of thorin another mistake IMHO. Tolkeins lack of females really drags in modern drama, it’s out of fashion to have boys only now, especially in hunger games era.
    Thee story follows the book closely at the top then deviates abruptly and the simple story gets lost a bit, even the Gollum scene everyone loves plays better in the audiobook reading than this film. As an uberfan I give a B

  • Serge Isaac Barou

    What the reviewer fails to spell out is that this is a children’s book and the movie is for children, too. Or should be. Its fans, and even more so ‘uberfans’, older than 14 are severely infantile and… how to put it mildly… underdeveloped. ‘Uberfan’ is equal to ‘unterbrain’, and inability of the one posted here to comprehend written/printed information if it’s not read aloud to him is the best proof of this sad fact.

  • Lucky Star

    I was pleasantly surprised as I watched to find that I liked it. Far superior to the LOTR movies which were horrendous in taking ridiculous liberties with the characters and plots-the most offending being emasculating Aragorn and giving most of his greatness to the silly contrivance of Arwen and downplaying the symbolism of Anduril to it being just any old sword, one of the worse scenes in the movie is showing the revered broken sword falling to the floor with such indifference as though someone dropped their extra set of keys.

    The difference is the LOTR is high literature whereas The Hobbit is a children’s book, so it is supposed to be storytelling, therefore it is understood no one tells the same story in exactly the same way.

    There were flaws starting with there being no reason for the scene with Frodo, there being no need for the invented secondary storyline of Azog, who was killed by Dain Ironfoot years before this journey, and the useless, offensive characterization of Radagast the Brown, which is so far from anything Tolkien would have written as to seem like the scenes he’s in or mentioned in are somehow part of a different, really bad movie and got mistakenly edited in.

    Otherwise there is the usual Hollywoodisation of lines and plot, but they didn’t detract from the fantasy such as they did in the LOTR movies. The actors were superb, the visuals stunning and it made for a very entertaining movie experience.

    My only concern is how this is going to be carried through the rest of the story and two movies. I gather that more departures from the storyline will occur, one of the more cringeworthy being just as with LOTR/Arwen, a ridiculous Mary Sue character will appear and other liberties taken. Even with the remarkable Richard Armitage as elegant Thorin Oakenshield, any changes made to the bitter ending(I suspect something moronic including Azog) along with whatever else is changed or added will render this series as happened with the LOTR movies from being entertaining to no longer watchable.

  • Brett Harrison Davinger

    You’re right about grandfather. I cleared it up in the review. Thanks.

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