The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Following the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was going to be no easy feat. The series not only made incredible amounts of cash at the box office worldwide, but also garnered an Academy award for best picture for the final film in the series. In the years since the trilogy, writer-director-producer Peter Jackson has not overwhelmed at the box office. His big-budget remake of “King Kong” performed below expectations and the high-profile collapse of the “Halo” movie to which he was attached, as well as the underwhelming box office of “The Lovely Bones” made many people question if Jackson had peaked and was better suited for the lower budgeted independent films that first gave him his start.

When it was announced that a film version of “The Hobbit” was in the works and that director Guillermo del Toro would direct the film as well as help write the screenplay and that Jackson would produce, the fans’ interest level was definitely piqued. But after a long state of pre-production, del Torro decided not to direct the film as he was unwilling to commit the next six years to living and working in New Zealand. Jackson then took over the film and soon after it was announced that it would be stretched into three movies to form a new trilogy.

For those unfamiliar with the story it was actually the first book written by J.R.R. Tolkien, which sets the stage for what was to follow in the Lord of the Rings even though it was originally conceived as a standalone story. The film opens with an older Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), writing a memoir while preparations for a party are underway. Bilbo discusses how there was one story that he had not disclosed and sets pen to paper in order to chronicle his legendary journey 60 years prior.

Gandolf Wizard (Sir Ian McKellen) visits the younger Bilbo and suggests he go on an adventure. Bilbo immediately declines, as being a Hobbit, he has no desire to leave the creature comforts and serenity of The Shire, much less face the dangers that exist in the world beyond. A group of dwarves arrive’ that evening and despite their gluttonous appetites and loud behavior, Bilbo has a change of heart the following morning and accompanies them on their quest.

The group’s goal is to travel to the dwarves’ kingdom of Erebor to reclaim their stronghold which was lost many years earlier to a vicious Dragon named Smaug. In the decades since, the dwarves existed as people without a home, forced to live as nomads taking work wherever they can find it. Along the way the group deals with all manner of threats and dangers ranging from trolls, goblins, orcs, and other supernatural elements. Of course there were some internal tensions and conflicts within the group as it marched towards a finale that sets the stage for the next film.

The movie has a runtime of nearly 3 hours and there were times that I caught a couple members in press row dozing briefly. While I enjoyed the film more than I did any of the Lord of the Rings movies, it was clearly obvious that things were being stretched out in order to justify a third film in the series. There were countless scenes of the band walking over hills and across the countryside so much so that at times I felt that I was watching the longest commercial for New Zealand tourism ever created. We get it. It’s a long journey. They travel near and far. I got it. I don’t need to see it every 10 minutes.

There were also several scenes that were done almost as if in aside that truthfully did not add much to the story but seem to exist as nothing more than time fillers. In the subsequent films it is learned that characters and scenes that did not appear in the book will be inserted into the film. Once again I have to question this as I do believe they could have easily cut an hour out of this movie and not lose much of the necessary narrative.

There’s been a lot of talk about the higher frame rate 3-D that was used to create the film. There have been claims that it was distracting, jerky, and detracted from the movie. I on the other hand found it absolutely captivating because it did not have that movie look to it, and it felt like I was watching an HD television. Even during the CGI heavy sequences, it did appear as if the performers were literally right there in front of me and I got the impression more of watching a play than of watching a movie.

The visual effects in the film were quite stunning. The live-action and computer-generated elements were absolutely amazing, especially during the latter part of the film when we meet Gollum (Andy Serkis), and during the battle and the goblin stronghold. Although the book is considered a children’s novel, I would really have to think twice about bringing young children to see this film as there is a lot of action and violence in the film as well as potential scares in the form of the monsters that abound.

The film could have definitely used some star power to it. While the cast does a solid job, they are fairly generic and almost interchangeable during certain segments of the film. That being said, the film works because despite its issues, it’s a visually spectacular masterpiece that, if you can endure the long periods of inaction, pays off especially well during the film’s battle sequences.

4 stars out of 5