The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey * * * *

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Director: Peter Jackson.
Screenplay: Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Graham McTavish, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Benedict Cumberbatch, Elijah Wood.

When news of an adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit arrived, I have to admit that I was very eager to see it move along briskly. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Production was so slow that original director Guillermo del Toro had to leave due to other commitments. Although this was disappointing news, all was not lost as “The Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson returned to the helm to assume control of this prequel. Expectations were high and it left the overhanging question as to whether he could emulate his past successes. Well, it’s certainly not without it’s flaws but again Jackson has delivered another indulgent cinematic experience from the treasured quill of Tolkien’s world.

The Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor has been taken over by the fearsome dragon, Smaug and a plan is set to reclaim it and the treasures lost. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a Hobbit who finds himself thrust into this quest on the recommendation of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Smaug is not the only thing that stands in their way, though; a malevolent presence is at work in middle-earth which could affect all of them.

After a brief introduction to the plight of the dwarves and a devastating introduction to the dragon Smaug, we are taken straight back to the Shire where the whole story of the Hobbit adventures originated. It’s here that we’re reminded of the twee environment in which these little halfling’s reside and with Jackson calling the shots, you know straight away that you are in comfortable hands. Gandalf and Bilbo’s first meeting is addressed and the rest of the main characters are rounded up before the film begins it’s “unexpected journey”. When I say this, though, it sounds like the film gets straight down to business and gets the formalities out the way. It doesn’t. Jackson takes his time in establishing the set-up and he chooses to flesh out every detail. As a result, it becomes apparent that the film isn’t flowing as easily as it could do. Things do pick up, though, and it’s very difficult not to get swept up in the sheer visual masterclass that’s delivered before your eyes. It’s absolutely breathtaking to observe and none more so, than when Jackson begins to deliver his highly impressive, action set-pieces. From a confrontation with campfire Trolls to battling Rock monsters and giant sweeping eagles, they’re all absolutely astounding and thrillingly executed. However, despite the excitement, what these moments lack is the ability to feel like the characters are in any real danger. Maybe this is because I had read the book beforehand or maybe it’s because the set-pieces only served to instil some excitement before taking a break and doing it all over again. There is a feeling of repetition to the film and, dare I say it, a feeling of tediousness. Jackson’s decision to flesh out this short children’s novel into a trilogy of films – that will no doubt run between two and three hours each – seems wholly unnecessary but I suppose time will tell on that. As it is, though, this film is certainly overlong and it, simply, didn’t need to be. Some scenes are laborious and you can’t help but get the feeling that Jackson should just move it along. On the other hand, I found it hard to deny how much fun I was having. Much like “The Lord of the Rings“, it’s aided by very strong performances; McKellen is his usual reliable self as Gandalf and although I wasn’t convinced with the choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo, I have to admit that he slotted in very well indeed. As for the dwarves, well, out of the whole thirteen of them, only a handful actually stand out. The one that really rises to the surface is that of Thorin Oakenshield and Richard Armitage plays him to perfection – channeling an Aragorn/Viggo Mortensen charismatic presence. He’s so commanding that it’s hard to accept that he’s only a dwarf. Another highlight from the performances is seeing Andy Serkis reprise his role of Gollum. Once again, the go-to guy for motion capture brings this complex little character to life.
The ingredients are all here and it certainly looks like there’s more mileage in these characters yet. I just hope that Jackson knows when to trim the edges next time round.

A little less plodding and bit more urgency will be required for the second instalment if this trilogy is to truly find it’s feet. That being said, it finishes strongly and if Jackson can keep that momentum going then this could yet turn out to be a very successful return to middle-earth.

Mark Walker

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60 Responses to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey * * * *”

  1. Recently rewatched it and although it is a very entertaining movie I much rather watch the LoTR trilogy…

    • LotR is definitely better, there’s no doubt there but I really enjoyed this. Over length was definitely an issue and a little more editing wouldn’t have went a miss but still great stuff.

  2. It wasn’t as good as the original trilogy, but Jackson never half-asses any part of this movie and keeps it fun, interesting, and wild, even if it does lose itself sometimes. Good review Mark.

  3. Nice review Mark and couldn’t agree more. It did feel a little repetitious – dwarves are in trouble, Gandalf shows up to save the day, repeat to fade. I also hated that other wizard, Radaghast. His scenes felt completely pointless. Having said that, I thought it was decent enough and felt different enough from LoTR whilst still feeling like part of the same universe.

    • Very well said Chris. My thoughts exactly. How many times did Gandalf save the day? It seemed to play out with a resting period, then an action scene, another resting period and so on…
      That being said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

  4. Great review! I’m not familiar with the book but I agree there was no danger in all those situations, I think it’s because the tone is much sillier and lighter than in Lord of the Rings. I really liked Freeman and Armitage too, the friendship between the two was very moving in their last scene in the movie.

  5. Man, I would have loved to seen the movie Guillermo del Toro would have made! It still was good with Jackson on board though.

    • I imagine that del Toro would have darkened it up a bit and that would have been very interesting. Like you say, though, Jackson still does a very admirable job here. Thanks man!

  6. I think my biggest issue with this first film was that the stakes were never as high as in the LOTR pictures. I also thought there was some really odd and our of place attempts at humor that stuck out. But like you, I couldn’t deny how much fun I was having. And in the end, that’s really important.

    • I think Lord of the Rings was definitely a bigger challenge but I still think the stakes were high here because expectations were high. It will be criticised from many people but I had great time with this one. I occasionally looked at the clock but overall, this was a lot of fun. Thanks bro!

      • I really didn’t phrase that well. I meant the stakes weren’t as big. You’re right, the stakes were there, but in LOTR the threat was something that shook the very foundation of all of Middle Earth. It meant the destruction of everything. Here it seemed minor in comparison. But that didn’t kill my appreciation for the movie. I liked it a great deal and will be buying it when it hits Blu-ray this Tuesday. Can’t wait to watch it with my young son!

      • That’s it very true Keith. I see what you mean now. There was more at stake for middle-earth in LotR. I suppose that was always going to be the problem with The Hobbit. It is a lighter tale and Jackson’s does well to capture it. A little more darkness would have been great but like LotR, this trilogy might grow darker like that did. Here’s hoping. I’m considering letting my young daughter watch it too.

  7. Excellent post Mark. I’ve been hesitant about seeing this film. I’m a huge fan of LOTR and I didn’t want to ruin my perception of it. But this review gives me new hope!!!

    • Rest assured that it isn’t as good as Lord of the Rings, of which, I’m a big fan of as well but it’s a good attempt. Don’t go into with massive expectations and you’ll find plenty to enjoy. As entertainment it’s very good. Flawed, but still very good.

  8. Isn’t this 19 hours long???

  9. In my mind folks complaining about too much Middle Earth and too many Hobbit films are the same sort of people who would complain about too many lap dances and drinks on the house.

    • Haha! That’s one way of putting things Adam. Trust you to hit out with a line like that ;-)

      I’m still undecided and only time will tell on it but I did really like this and another two more doesn’t sound all that terrible at the present time. :-)

  10. I wasn’t a fan of this. Your line, “There is a feeling of repetition to the film and, dare I say it, a feeling of tediousness,” is spot on.

    My main issue with the film is Jackson. “The Hobbit” doesn’t fit in nicely with the rest of the Middle-Earth history Tolken created, and Jackson tries to hard to make it fit. A new director with a new perspective may have not felt the need to saddle the movie with all that excess baggage.

    Also, since TLOR trilogy, Jackson hasn’t made a film less than 2 1/2 hours long. I think he has lost his ability to edit and listen to his editor. Stretching “The Hobbit” to three films was already adding bloat to the story. By making the this film–and probably the others as well–over two hours just adds more flab.

    • I do think that the decision to expand this into three film’s could be a very bad idea. If anything it’s shown in the this first instalment… It’s too long. I do hope that Jackson learns his lesson for the second part. Otherwise , he’s just on a mission to go for it. That being said, though, I still thoroughly enjoyed (almost) all 3hrs of this. I accepted it and went with it.
      Another director may have brought a different scope and del Toro certainly intrigues but Jackson know this game and I actually think he’ll pull it off. I had similar feelings to “the fellowship” instalment of LOFR. I found it twee and overlong but in hindsight, it’s an essential part of the story. I think the Hobbit could be seen as the same when we’ve witnessed it in it’s entirety.

  11. Youre definitely right, Mark that the issue with this one is bloat, just like with some of Jackson’s other works. It could have easily lost a half an hour and been a better film for it.

    But it’s still an awesome, fun filled adventure in Middle Earth. I thought it was great! :D

    • We’re on the same page here Fogs! It was bloated and I’m not certain that that’s a good way to start off. Maybe this is Jackson’s way of getting the drudgery out the way, so ghat he can concentrate on the other parts. I felt the same with the LORT trilogy. The first is my least favourite. I’m hoping he’s taking the same approach. But at the end of the day, I can’t criticise this too much. I had an absolute blast with this. It’s pure escapism!!

  12. Wahoo!! LOVE this review Mark! So glad you enjoyed this despite some minor quibbles. I too think it got to be a bit tedious at times but overall it’s a very enjoyable experience! Oooh, I LOVE what you said about Armitage, ‘…channeling Aragorn/Viggo Mortensen’s charismatic presence’ is right. I’ve been a longtime fan of his so it’s great to see him getting cast here. I sure hope this movie will give him a major career boost!

    • :-) Glad to hear you’re a fan Ruth. This film was always going to get it’s critics. It had a lot to live up to. The Lord of the Rings was one of the finest cinematic achievements of our generation (if not, ever). There’s no way this film was going to get a “free pass”. If you can distance yourself yourself from Jackson’s previous trilogy then this still stands it’s own ground.

      Armitage you say? I’m not that familiar with the guy but that’s a leading actor right there. He’s absolutely superb in this film and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will be a common name before long. I did have a problem accepting him as a dwarf, when his presence was so big. That’s ultimately a testament to his ability. He was, in some ways, too big for the role he was playing. He stood out the most in this film. I had a lot of fun with this and that, for me, is really what it’s all about.

      • YES absolutely, Richard’s got leading man charisma, that’s why I’ve been championing for this guy to make it big! I was thrilled when he was cast, he’s so much more than a pretty face as even hidden under all that beard and makeup he’s still got a commanding presence. It’s true he still looks tall even amongst the dwarfs ahah, I think the camera angles somehow still made him tower above the rest, well except Gandalf and the Elves of course :D

      • He’s a still in the making Ruth. The next GB in your eyes, I’ll wager! ;-)

  13. I’ve been avoiding this for a while, but I may as well see it when it comes to DVD. I’m just not a Lord of the RIngs fan.

    By the way…I love your new logo.

    • You don’t like Lord of the Rings? There’s a good chance you won’t take to this either, man. I really enjoyed it, though.

      Yeah, new look going on. Thanks for noticing and dropping in Alexander. Good to see you, man. :-)

  14. As a big fan of the books, not just LOTR but all of the mythology of Tolkien’s world The Hobbit still leaves me cold; for the reason that it’s shocking how they are making another Trilogy for this. but that’s not an issue for the quality of the film, which was very good but didn’t capture anything like the magic of LOTR. Spreading it over a Trilogy is nothing more than a cash in for me hence the fleshing out of so much stuff, but I/we will still lap it up. It did well to get in some of the mythology long before events which I love the most.

    • It definitely stinks of a cash in and I’m not certain about it either. I love the books as well but I have to hand it to Jackson, despite the overlength, I still got right into this. I can’t wait for more. Like you say, criticisms or not, I’m still looking forward to the rest of it.

  15. Looking forward to the sequel, bring on the dragon :D

  16. I just watched this as well — actually held off on reading your review a bit so it wouldn’t color my own. We come down at about the same place for about the same reasons. Fun film, but the padding is definitely easy to point out.

    • I’m still playing catch-up on reviews but I did get the email notification. I’ll swing by on that when I get a chance Morgan. Yeah, the film was certainly flawed but it was still a hell of a lot of fun.

  17. Nice one Mark. I was pleasantly surprised by this when I saw it. I wasn’t expecting it to hit the heights of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but I think it’s a decent enough accompaniment to those films, albeit a little more light-hearted. I got into it too, and am now really looking forward to the second installment.

    • Cheers man. I didn’t expect it to reach the heights if LotR either and I think that stood me in good stead. It was more lighthearted but I also found that about “The fellowship”, that was a bit lighthearted before the trilogy got steadily darker. I’m hoping this will do the same.

  18. Great review but aww man, I wanted you to join my Hobbit Haters club! LOL
    I’m glad we at least agree on that it’s too long!

  19. Excellent review, Mark! I agree, entertaining but a little ‘plodding’ at times. I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but it kept me entertained for the three hours, which is a good feat! ;)

    • Thanks Georgina! That’s exactly it. It ha received a lot of criticism for it being overlong (myself included) but for it to still hold your interest is quite an achievement.

  20. I am NOT a LOTR fan so I’ll be skipping this one. I wasn’t a huge fan of the book anyway so yeah…good review though, Mark!

  21. Bit late to the party, as I’ve only just seen this really. Agree with a lot of your points, Mark. But alas, I couldn’t see beyond its many faults to enjoy the movie. I tried, but there was a point about two thirds through when I realised the action scenes just weren’t thrilling me.

    • Yeah, I understand your feelings, man. It could definitely have been tighter but I managed to let myself go and get into it. Despite it’s lengthy running time, I have to admit that when it was all over, I felt that I had witnessed a great visual spectacle. Couldn’t really knock it for that reason.

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