Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Action,Adventure The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy is one of the great achievements of cinema.  Based on the literary trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, it creates Middle-Earth, a fantastical world of men, hobbits, dwarves, elves, orcs, goblins, and wizards, where evil is thwarted after much sacrifice by good.  But even that mammoth work was a darkly adult sequel to Tolkien’s children’s story “The Hobbit,” published  seventeen years earlier, in 1937.  Having made history with the “The Lord of the Rings,” it was only natural that Peter Jackson would seek to produce “The Hobbit.”

Differing substantially from the novel, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” relates the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, the hobbit of the title, as he is recruited by Gandalf the wizard to join a group of 13 dwarves in their quest to reclaim their homeland, the Kingdom of Erebor (now known merely as the Lonely Mountain), which has been seized and occupied by the giant dragon Smaug for the last 60 years.  Led by the heir to the throne, Thorin Oakenshield, they seek not only glory and gold, but to re-establish their home.  The quest is near to Bilbo’s heart, as he is by nature a homebody, and the idea of not having a place to call home is to him torture.  But the unexpected journey reveals to him his own surprisingly adventurous spirit as he encounters trolls, orcs, goblins, wargs, giant eagles, and a nasty little cave dwelling creature called Gollum.

The script is the most fascinating element to “The Hobbit,” simply because Jackson has tinkered so much with it.  To begin with, he has converted a children’s book of less than 300 pages into a trilogy, so he had to supplement the tale with more information, often maintaining the childlike awe of the book, but often making things dangerously dark.  In “An Unexpected Journey,” he has added a rather lengthy prologue that details the rise and fall of Erebor, and at the same time rather stiltingly alludes to the opening scene of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” which occurs 60 years after “The Hobbit.”  Numerous other references to what will come to pass in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy are also added, cheapening “The Hobbit” at times to be nothing more than merchandising for the former movie.  Succumbing to Hollywood formula, Mr. Jackson is also not content to allow the episodic nature of the quest to drive the story, but instead has invented a vengeful villain out to kill Thorin.   The result of these and other embellishments is that “An Unexpected” Journey” bears an uncanny resemblance to “The Fellowship of the Rings,” and does not fare well in that comparison.

Not that “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a failure—it most assuredly is not.  While one may complain that many of the CG chase scenes are long and repetitive, Mr. Jackson knows how to tell a tale to hold the audience’s interest.  Every scene is visually intriguing: lighting, colors, and the sheer strangeness of the costumes and sets are fascinating.  He also paces the story (at more than two and a half hours) wonderfully, by injecting humor and personality so that the audience likes these characters.

What’s more, Martin Freeman (TV’s “Sherlock”) as Bilbo Baggins is a revelation.  He has perfect comic timing and a bewildering array of facial expressions that immediately convey his character’s emotions.   Richard Armitage (“Captain America”) does a fine job as well as Thorin, projecting vulnerable nobility and stern humor.  The other dwarves are a cacophony of Scottish braggadocio and Disney-like chaotic humor.

All in all, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” makes up for its flaws through visionary ambition, unrelenting energy, and the wonder of the original tale, and is well worth watching.

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