The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated PG-13 | 170 minutes
Release Date: December 14th, 2012
Director Peter Jackson returns to J.R.R. Tokien‘s Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first entry in a new series of films that serve as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Set 60 years before The Fellowship of the Ring, An Unexpected Journey concerns Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a young Hobbit who goes on a grand adventure with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a company of thirteen Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).
Their goal is simple: reach the Lonely Mountain and reclaim the kingdom of Ererbor (and its golden treasure) from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch), the ‘Chiefest and Greatest of Calamities.’
The journey leads them from Bilbo’s home in Bag End in the Shire to the Elven stronghold of Rivendell and through the Goblin-infested Misty Mountains, where Bilbo encounters Gollum (Andy Serkis), a tragic creature who possesses a golden ring that will change the hobbit’s life forever.
That is, of course, the basic plot of Tolkien’s 1937 novel. Jackson’s film adaptation, however, makes extensive use of appendices and other supplementary materials to expand the 300-page children’s book into a trilogy of films that will eclipse nine hours of screen time.
In An Unexpected Journey, Jackson shows us glimpses of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs and sets up Azog the Defiler as Thorin’s long-standing nemesis – a pale Orc on a white Warg who pursues Thorin and his company relentlessly. By delving into the character’s backstory, Jackson makes Thorin Oakenshield the Aragorn of this new trilogy – a fearsome warrior who aids the Hobbit on his quest.
Also expanded upon in Jackson’s adaptation is Gandalf’s conflict with the Necromancer of Dol Goldur. In The Hobbit novel, Gandalf disappears for long periods of time, but in the appendices, Tolkien explains exactly what he was doing and where he was going. As the Dwarves journey into the Goblin tunnels, Gandalf meets with the White Council: Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving). It’s a nice little Lord of the Rings reunion as the council convenes to uncover the true identity of the Necromancer.
It’s safe to assume that The Battle of Dol Goldur (where Galadriel kicks serious ass) and The Battle of Five Armies will see ample amounts of screen time over the next two Hobbit films: The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. Jackson has to top the epic Battle of Helm’s Deep in The Two Towers and Return of the King‘s War of the Ring, after all.
These supplementary additions are great at expanding the mythology of Middle-Earth and further bridging The Hobbit to The Lord of the Rings – but this film is first and foremost about Bilbo Baggins. Martin Freeman’s performance is warm and charming and more engaging than Frodo (Elijah Wood). His inclusion keeps The Hobbit as it should be – a lighthearted affair in the midst of dark and dangerous times. Bilbo’s transition from fearful homebody to resilient Orc slayer is entirely believable and Freeman’s comedic timing shines during scenes with Gandalf, the Dwarves, and of course Gollum. Speaking of, Serkis delivers yet another phenomenal performance, presenting Gollum as a sad, curious creature with an infinity for games and riddles.
In terms of production design and visual effects, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is astounding – from Wargs and Orcs to Great Eagles and the Goblin King – Tolkien’s world of fantasy is brought to life in stunning detail. I should note that I saw this film in both standard 24fps 3D and 48fps 3D and would say the 48fps format is certainly an experiment that is quite a departure from the aesthetic of film and yet, I found it to be engaging and visually stimulating. Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. If you want to hate it, you will – if you’re willing to give it a shot, you might be surprised by what you see. Jackson has just opened Pandora’s box on this new technology, and I’m sure it will be used and refined as time goes on (much like 3D and IMAX).
If I have one criticism, it’s the Great Eagles. What’s their deal? I mean, you just do some whisperin’ to a moth and next thing you know, these big-ass birds show up to rescue you and your companions from certain doom. Here’s the kicker though – instead of taking you all the way to the Lonely Mountain, they drop you off on another mountain top in sight of your destination. That’s kind of a dick move, right? I mean – it’s right there! Just take them there! What else are they doing? What kind of Great Eagle business are they attending to? Building a big-ass nest in Saruman’s tower or some shit?
Great Eagles are jerks. Gorgeous, majestic jerks with awesome wingspans and willing hearts… but jerks nonetheless. When the Giant Eagles show up to kick ass during the Battle of Five Armies, I expect a stronger commitment to the cause!