Welcome to Hobbit Week! Over the course of the next three days, along with your regular dose of sci-fi and fantasy news and entertainment, our beloved N. Demmy is going to be reviewing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy, telling you what he thinks of it, if it’s any good, etc. We hope you enjoy this review and the upcoming ones! Get ready, ’cause we’re going on an adventure!
Directed by Peter Jackson.
Written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walhs, Phllippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro.
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage and Andy Serkis.
PG-13, 170 minutes.
At first glance, the first chapter in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy feels like how an important character describes his self in another Tolkien adventure. Thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. The decision to split the relatively short children’s book into three gargantuan, mega-budgeted adventures may not be a ringing endorsement for restraint on behalf of the filmmakers. However, this first prequel film goes a long way in establishing a continuum of tone between the earlier movies, even if it doesn’t quite reach the same level of quality.
Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, a peace-loving hobbit of the shire who becomes entangled with a band of dwarves when they set out to reclaim their homeland from a treacherous dragon. On the way, their crew encounters a host of other creatures, some nice, some treacherous and some deranged.
One of the main criticisms doled out to An Unexpected Journey has to do with its running time. Despite the considerable length, not once can I ever say I was bored or felt that the movie was treading too much water. While the entire length of this film covers only six chapters of the novel it’s based on, the rest has been fleshed out from Tolkein’s own notes or the invention of Peter Jackson and the writing team in a way that invites the idea we are watching someone’s bad fan-fiction, then nimbly avoids such a notion through sheer entertainment value.
The result is clear. This is not an attempt to faithfully recreate the novel that introduced readers to Middle-Earth. This is Peter Jackson filling in the blanks. It plays less like The Hobbit and more Lord of the Rings: Episode I. The whimsical nature of the original tale is still there in bits and spurts (the death-defying main characters, talking trolls), but it becomes more or less buried beneath an almost excessive need to tie everything together, whether it be through some questionable cameo appearances or epic battle sequences (mostly shown in flashback aided by operatic choir music).
The film still works more than it doesn’t because of a surprisingly sharp focus on its central character. Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo Baggins, a more appealing lead than Elijah Wood’s Frodo (sorry). He’s a hobbit who leaves home to help others reclaim theirs, grows impossibly homesick along the way, then commits to their quest because he knows exactly how the dwarves feel. It’s a strong arc to base the first film around, even if the stakes aren’t really as high as they were in the other movies, which is possibly the only main failing of An Unexpected Journey.
We get to the end of this film and there’s no sense of bittersweet anticipation in our characters resuming their quest, not like there was in Fellowship of the Ring. It’s unfair to continually compare the two trilogies like this, sure, but this film keeps inviting comparisons to such a degree that it’s impossible not to have this in the back of your mind if you’re remotely familiar with the earlier films.
An Unexpected Journey takes its sweet time to get where it’s going, which is essentially nowhere until the final two films come out (which, at the time of this article, have, but let’s assume not for the purposes of this review), but it’s still a worthwhile watch if you’re at all a fan. With a strong lead performance and a solid, emotional character journey (pun intended) to pin it around, Peter Jackson’s film avoids the pratfalls of other prequels.
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