Ever since "The Lord of the Rings" ended, fans have been clamoring for "The Hobbit" to be adapted as well.
Well, it took nine years of obstacles, but now we have "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first part of a trilogy of "Hobbit" movies. It has some few flaws, but overall feels like a pleasantly familiar return to Middle-Earth -- fire, elves, orc-killing, a magic ring and lots of sweeping New Zealand landscapes.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a nice boring gentlehobbit who has no interest in adventures. Then the wizard Gandalf descends on Bag End with thirteen dwarves. They are setting out for the lost city of Erebor, which the dragon Smaug stole many years ago -- and now Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) wants to reclaim it. Also, Gandalf has volunteered Bilbo as an expert burglar.
Despite Bilbo's initial reluctance, he soon finds that the world outside the Shire is a pretty dangerous place -- trolls, goblins, stone giants and an albino orc who wants Thorin's head. And in a deep, dark cave, Bilbo encounters a grotesque creature known as Gollum...
At the same time, Radagast the Brown Wizard (Sylvester McCoy) warns Gandalf of something that is poisoning the woods and animals of the Greenwood. Even worse, it's moved into the old fortress of Dol Guldur, and has the power to summon the dead.
It took me two viewings of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" to really generate a valid opinion. The first time I was overwhelmed with fan squeeing over the spectacle, as a moderate-to-obsessed Tolkien nerd, and the second time I was able to more objectively view the movie's pros and cons.
Peter Jackson has to be admired for managing to whip the first third of "The Hobbit" (plus chunks of "Unfinished Tales") into a three-act narrative structure, especially since the story is very small-scale and linear. It's a lighter story than any of the "Lord of the Rings" movies (the dwarves raiding Bilbo's pantry), but there's always a dark undercurrent reminding you that there is serious stuff afoot.
And Jackson does a typically brilliant job evoking Middle-Earth's danger and majesty, sweeping us across glittering mountain citadels, murky forests and rotted fortresses. There are some absolutely stunning action scenes, such as Thorin stalking down a fallen, burning tree to fight his mortal enemy. It's brilliant.
He also fleshes out the storyline by exploring the Council investigating the Necromancer (three guesses who he is!), and a prologue showing everything that Thorin's people have suffered and lost. They're depicted as a proud people who have lost everything, and it adds a powerfully tragic undercurrent to the story.
However... there are some problems with the movie. The comic relief characters (the trolls, the singing goblin king) simply don't work. And it needs some serious fat trimmed off, with some scenes (the stone giants) that could have been cut completely. It should have been maybe a half-hour shorter, with those scenes reserved for the extended edition.
But the actors are pretty much all brilliant. Martin Freeman is the perfect mix of fussiness and gutsiness as Bilbo, and we can see him slowly growing into his friendships with the Dwarves. Richard Armitage is similarly brilliant as a butt-kicking dwarf prince who can be prickly and crabby, but who has also suffered a lot of humiliation and loss.
And of course, we have familiar faces like Ian McKellen as the delightfully grumpy Gandalf, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee. McCoy is adorably scatterbrained as a wizard who likes animals more than people, and the various dwarves are all given personality and development to make them distinctive. That's a pretty impressive feat with such a large main cast!
The comedy can be a bit grating, but "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is still a beautiful, intriguing start to Bilbo Baggins' journey. And the journey will only get more epic and dark.
- Actors: Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Martin Freeman, Ken Stott, Ian McKellen
- Directors: Peter Jackson
- Region: Region B/2 (Read more about DVD/Blu-ray formats.)
- Number of discs: 3
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- DVD Release Date: 1 May 2013
- Run Time: 169.00 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- ASIN: B0776K3MJ5