Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Dwarves Get A Chance To Shine.

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*This review is based off of the 24fps IMAX 3D viewing of The Hobbit*

J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic tale The Hobbit has had a more than difficult road getting to the big screen. I’m sure Peter Jackson never envisioned that making this would possibly be a more difficult task than making his The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The movie was originally planned to be released in two parts but was split into three either by Jackson’s doing or the studio is not known. Jackson also chose to shoot the film in 48fps which is dividing moviegoers from “it’s the future of cinema” all the way to “the most expensive looking home movie ever made”.

But for right now let’s wade through all the minutia and get down to what ultimately matters. Is The Hobbit a great movie? No, it is not. But it is a very good movie that could be the beginning of something great.

The Hobbit is probably the greatest fantasy book ever written. For 75 years it has enchanted readers of all ages but let’s face it, the book is only 300 pages so stretching it into three movies is going to take a little bit of Hollywood magic as well as taking what Gandalf says in the movie to heart.

“All good stories deserve embellishment.”

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The plot for The Hobbit is not exactly deep. Gandalf the Grey shows up on an unsuspecting hobbit’s doorstep one morning asking if he would like to partake in an adventure. The hobbit in question, Bilbo Baggins, declines but is nevertheless visited by thirteen dwarves that night who kindly eat him out of house and home while discussing how to take back their lost gold (for the film it is changed to the dwarves wanting their homeland back, not just a greedy attempt at gold) from Smaug the dragon. All the while Bilbo is wondering why has his house been invaded by these dwarves and a wizard. He finds out that Gandalf has elected him to be the burglar of the group that is heading for The Lonely Mountain. After sleeping on it he joins the group and is on his first adventure.

Now one of the more difficult things for Jackson to try and accomplish is having thirteen dwarves each with their own unique personality. Everyone ready? OK, here’s the rundown: Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori and Thorin Oakenshield, who is the leader of the group. Luckily readers of the book will connect easily with the characters right off the bat but where the film really helps matters is that even moviegoers who are going into the movie as Hobbit virgins will not be lost in the shuffle because every dwarf character really does come across as their own not just a xerox copy of other party members.

As far as character performances are concerned I really saw no weak points. Ian McKellan could play Gandalf in his sleep and everyone should be glad that he came back to play the role because anyone else would be a pale comparison to the wizard we know on film. Martin Freeman (who is in a race with his Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch to see who can be the bigger star of the show) plays Bilbo with affable whimsy and while he may not be pudgy in belly as Tolkien had described Bilbo and most hobbits to be, Freeman latches onto the role and make it wholly his own. With that said, the real star of this first film has to be Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. In the Tolkien book Thorin was more of a greedy hoarder that wanted lost gold but in Jackson’s movie he is transformed into the heir to the lost dwarven throne who is seeking to reclaim the home that was stolen from his people. And with this (welcome) change in character, Thorin has to be played in a different way and Armitage breathes an indomitable spirit into the role.

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The first part of this trilogy covers roughly a little over the first third of the book and at a runtime of two hours and forty minutes there is a whole lot of scenes that have been stretched out from two pages into twenty minutes of film but to me this never seemed to drag as some have complained. Now if you are looking for an exact re-telling of the novel then you are going to be sorely disappointed. Peter Jackson made plenty of changes to his The Lord of the Rings trilogy (Tom Bombadil, MIA) and you are going to get plenty of them here. Radagast the Brown, who is only spoken of in The Hobbit, is a fully fleshed out character with his own scenes complete with mushroom trips and hair filled with bird crap. His scene where he leads orcs on a chase through the open fields is used as a segue in getting Bilbo and company to Rivendell.

Moreover, the Necromancer appears to play an overall bigger role in Jackson’s trilogy. Mentioned in the book this Necromancer, a foretelling of Sauron’s return, looks to be a character of bigger import. Azog the Defiler has also been made into Thorin’s main antagonist. He was only a part of Thorin’s backstory who died long ago by another dwarf’s hand but in the film he is made into the face of the enemy that hunts the party along their travels. The addition of Azog certainly has me intrigued as to how he will be used in the follow up films. Like I said, don’t expect a book to film transfer but the additions made are forgivable and, in some cases, make the movie more interesting.

If there is one thing no one can argue about it is that Peter Jackson has the look of Middle-Earth down to a science. A lot of cynical people have called the sweeping camera shots a tourism video for New Zealand and all I can say to that is “where do I sign up to go?”. The cinematography is second to none and is accompanied perfectly by Howard Shore returning to score and compose the music. You will get hints of music from LOTR like the music of The Shire along with a stirring rendition of Far Over the Misty Mountain Cold that becomes the theme of the dwarves in the film and is interwoven throughout the soundtrack. I dare anyone not to be humming this for days after seeing the movie.

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As I said earlier, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a very good movie. It goes without saying that there is slim chance that The Hobbit can recapture the magic of The Lord of the Rings trilogy but the source material should have already had you expecting that. I still have some worries about how this will be stretched into three full movies but I easily welcome the first part as a good setup for the journey into the Mirkwood and the fight with Smaug that is coming in the future.

The movie moves at its own pace and is unapologetic about it. This is fine by me. With strong performances, beautiful set pieces and a new yet familiar soundtrack I enjoyed my time being taken back to Middle-Earth. The plot changes are major in places but serve their purpose well and don’t feel like fluff meant to extend the runtime. Let’s just all be glad Peter Jackson and company decided to come back and make this movie a reality instead of leaving all of us to wonder “what if?”.

NERD RATING- 8.5 /10

 

 

 

 


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4 responses to “Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

  1. […] to see the nine minute preview of Star Trek Into Darkness over the weekend before viewings of The Hobbit (one word: amazeballs) then here is the brand spanking new trailer for the followup to the 2009 […]

  2. […] The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review Rate this:Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Tags: J.R.R. Tolkien, Movies, Peter Jackson, reviews, The Hobbit Comments RSS feed […]

  3. […] the release of The Hobbit this year Lego seized the opportunity to release sets based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic work […]

  4. […] year, Peter Jackson returned to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and some were disappointed by the lack of movement and story pacing. I enjoyed it thoroughly as […]

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