Theatrical Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

60 years before Frodo Baggins goes on his epic quest with the wizard Gandalf and the Fellowship of the Ring, his uncle, Bilbo, went on a similar journey. The young Bilbo Baggins, living his life of predictability and leisure in The Shire, is invited by the wizard Gandalf to join a group of dwarves lead by their prince, Thorin, in a quest to take back their home from the dragon Smaug. On this epic quest, Bilbo first encounters Gollum and the ring of power, that of course starts an even greater story already told by director Peter Jackson in his epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey marks Peter Jackson’s return to the world of Middle-Earth and is the first in another trilogy of films that seems a bit much at first, but if the following films are made with the same great care and zeal as this first one, then I know I certainly won’t mind making my own journey to theatres to see them.

To be honest, it’s literally been decades since I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit so I’m a little fuzzy on all of the details being right in this first part of the adaptation, but they certainly feel right. Bilbo’s first encounter with the party of dwarves as they gather in his home seems right on the money with what I remember, as does their meeting with the trolls and Bilbo’s first encounter with Gollum. These are truly magical moments in the film, in particular Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum and it was truly wonderful seeing them all brought to epic life.

Jackson’s film is, as expected, utterly gorgeous, looking like it’s bringing to life the paintings of The Brothers Hildebrandt. It’s visual effects are truly amazing and I have to admit to always being amazed at just how Jackson and company show the size relationship between Gandalf, the Elves, the Dwarves and the Hobbits and keeps it all seamless. I didn’t see the film in it’s 48 frames-per-second version, but I did opt to see it in 3D and I thought the 3D worked out extremely well for the film, more bringing a huge sense of immersion more than in-you-face effects. Composer Howard Shore has returned to the series as well and his music for the film certainly adds to the picture’s drive and scope.

I do think it’s run-time is a little bit too long, seeming to me to drag the most when Gandalf has his meeting with Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman in the Elven land of Rivendell. But honestly, it’s a moot complaint, and when the action picks up, it really is a thrilling ride.

Returning from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you have Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Sir Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis and Christopher Lee all reprising their respective roles, and of course, they’re all spot-on perfect with McKellen and Serkis being the real standouts amongst the returnees. The greatest addition to the new cast is Martin Freeman playing the younger Bilbo Baggins. At first it might seem that maybe Freeman is going to bring a little too much of his comic sensibility to the part, especially in the early scenes, but as things progress, you start to see a few more facets that he brings to play. When Bilbo decides to join the company on their quest and runs through The Shire, saying “I’m off to have an adventure!” (I’m paraphrasing), it’s genuinely infectious and you can’t wait to see what happens next. To me anyway, it seems that Freeman is sort of combining aspects of the prior performances of both Elijah Wood and Ian Holm in this younger version of Bilbo making it even apparent why Frodo is Bilbo’s favorite nephew. It’s truly a terrific performance from Freeman and I cannot wait to see how he advances further in this new trilogy.

Other new additions that stand out for me are Richard Armitage as Prince Thorin, Ken Stott as Balin, and Jekyll star James Nesbitt as Bofur amongst the dwarves. It’s also a real pleasure to see former Doctor Who, Sylvester McCoy in the movie as the wizard, Radagast, bring a lot of life and energy to the part. Really, all of the new cast are truly wonderful, but these are the standouts for me anyway.

So, we’re off to a great start with this return to Middle-Earth. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is really quite a bit of fun to experience and though it does drag a little in a couple of places, it’s quick to pick back up with it’s thrilling action and terrific characters, especially with Martin Freeman in the lead. While I chose to see this in 3D and totally enjoyed it, I don’t think it’s necessary to experience it that way (though I have to admit, I’m certainly curious to see it in it’s High Frame Rate version)), though I also don’t think it hurts it in the slightest, as long as you’re receptive to 3D- if not, then just go see the 2D version and you’re still bound for a terrific film. Very much recommended…