The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes us back to the fertile lands of Middle Earth, a make-believe world of wizards, orcs, hobbits, dwarfs, dragons, and goblins. The film is the first entry in a trilogy of prequels to The Lord of the Rings, arguably the most beloved fantasy franchise of our time. With Peter Jackson make in helm, it follows the same tone and mise-en-scene of the Rings trilogy. We are introduced to new characters, but it’s ultimately the presence of some of the familiar characters that warms our heart.
The film kicks off with a prologue that nicely ties this new trilogy with the latter entries. Like Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, it starts with Gandalf the Grey visiting the peaceful land of Hobbits, the Shire. He assembles a carefully picked group of odd characters to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which we learn was taken by a fearsome dragon known as Smaug.
The pack is lead by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield, who takes on a role similar to that of Aargon of The Lord of the Rings. We learn that after the dwarfs fled their inflamed mountain; they wandered Middle-Earth helpless and homeless. They never settled for a land, and it is Thorin who single-handedly kept them safe in battles against Orcs.
However, at the center of the tale is Bilbo Baggins, played marvelously by Martin Freeman. One thing this film has going for it is a much more likable central character than the Rings trilogy. Unlike Elijah Wood’s whiny portrayal of Frodo, Freeman is witty, charming, humorous, and a joy to watch.
Clocking at nearly three hours, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey covers the first third of the book. Don’t let that turn you off though, for this makes room for a lot of character development and Jackson fills it with extended battle sequences. The film is in every sense a feast to the eye, with state-of-the-art CGI and breathtaking landscapes.
I imagine many filmgoers will walk into this film with extremely high expectations. Make no mistake, the mood and essence of the Lord of the Rings lingers with you throughout the picture thanks to Howard Shore’s similar score; yet, to fully appreciate this film, you’ll have to tone down your expectations. The Hobbit is less epic, more lighthearted and humorous than the original trilogy. Instead of endless armies of Orcs, for example, the threat is more or less a gang of Orcs. I have a feeling the films will get a lot darker as the trilogy progresses on, as was the case previously.
One thing that always puzzled me about the Tolkien adventures is how at the most critical moment, Gandalf seems to come out of nowhere rescuing his mates with large eagle like creatures who pick up our characters and drop them off at a safer place.
Now, we know the film largely relies on it being a journey where characters walk through hell to reach their ultimate destination, but wouldn’t it be a lot easier if those bird-like creatures just flew them all the way to their destination? I suppose this is a plot hole I’m willing to dismiss, because we wouldn’t have an adventurous tale if it were that easy (which it is). Still, unlike its title, the first of the Hobbit films is very much an expected journey and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.