Film: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ brings an expected success

By Will Ashton |
The Hobbit | Directed by Peter Jackson | Rated PG-13
RATING: 3.5/5

The wait is over.

After years of speculation, false starts and complications, Peter Jackson has finally returned to Middle Earth after his original trilogy was released almost a decade ago.

With The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, rather than following the quest of Frodo, we join Bilbo Baggins as the hobbit joins the adventures of a variety of dwarves in their journey to steal their treasure back from Smaug, the dragon. With Bilbo assigned the role of the burglar, this film follows the first part of the trilogy that chronicles the adventures before the Lord of the Rings.

To cut to the chase, The Hobbit does not live up to the Lord of the Rings films. But this is not to say that it is bad, or that it is an unworthy addition to the series.

Despite having a bit of a hang-up in his career after the disappointment of his last feature, The Lovely Bones, Jackson once again is able to demonstrate his talents in full form in his return to J.R.R. Tolkien’s world. His direction in this film is, once again, top notch and it’s easy to see how much love and dedication he has for this series throughout the film’s almost three-hour running time.

Despite being loved and adored by many, including my father, I have never read a page of Tolkien’s work. Needless to say, my familiarity to the series goes as far as what I witnessed in the original trilogy. I’m not talking about those extended cuts either.

Alas, it is with this that I mention that I feel this film’s biggest flaw is its need to pad out the story in order to include as many details as they can from the text. While I’m sure fans of the book will love the amount of story that has been included (so far) into the film, as an audience member, it drags the film down, especially in the first half.

The film’s desire to show as much text from the novel come to life does have its advantages at times, such as developing characters such as Bilbo and Thorin. However, there will often remain the sinking feeling in the first half that it is pushing itself farther than it should.

Despite this, An Unexpected Journey definitely features a rousing second half. Set pieces designed here are incredible, and they are all put to great use. The editing featured in the action scenes is fantastic, and once the film gets through its first hour or so, the pacing becomes brisk and invigorating.

Among the many highlights of seeing the words of Tolkien be brought to life again is returning to characters that we love from the original films. Ian McKellen, as always, is spectacular as Gandalf in this film. My favorite, Gollum, thankfully returns and his scene in this movie with Bilbo is easily the best. I could have watched it for hours. Both of their returning performances are fantastic, and in addition to this, newcomers Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin are equally great.

Additionally, Howard Shore returns to score, and it is one of the best scores of the year. It easily goes alongside the scores by Jonny Greenwood in The Master, Hans Zimmer in The Dark Knight Rises, and Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer in Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Despite the film’s longer running time, I never really felt that I got to know any of the other dwarves besides Thorin. Perhaps if I read the book I would have gotten to know them, but as a filmgoer, I never really grew a connection to them. As a result, I felt as though some of the emotional context of the film was lost. It could be said that they do not need to be developed that much, which is partially true. Yet, remembering the previous films, I felt a connection to all the characters — even the supporting ones — and this time, I didn’t gain that relationship.

Despite its flaws, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is still a rousing visual and thematic accomplishment. In addition to its strong direction, set pieces, and acting, it is a visually beautiful film, thanks to its cinematography by Andrew Lesnie and visual effects from WETA, and is a welcome addition to the Lord of the Rings saga.


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