It’s been nine years since Peter Jackson ended his epic retelling of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga, which in its lifetime garnered billions of dollars in worldwide gross, and won a combined total of 17 Academy Awards, including Best Picture for Return of the King. The whole trilogy is a collective success that is one of the few cinematic achievements that I would ever consider as perfect. Flash forward to the present day, and we now take a trip back to Middle Earth with The Hobbit, the prequel to the trilogy. Originally slated to be split into two sections and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Jackson later took the helm, and decided to split the book into a trilogy like that of The Lord of the Rings. While this may sound quite excessive, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey mostly justifies the viewing experience. Mostly...
Set sixty years prior to The Fellowship of the Ring, An Unexpected Journey sees a much younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, excellently filling the shoes of Ian Holm) in his life in the Shire. He is approached by the grey wizard Gandalf (Played once more by the terrific Ian McKellen) on aiding him and a band of thirteen dwarves on a quest to their home on the lonely mountain, where they plan to reclaim it from the treasure obsessed dragon Smaug. Bilbo is understandably apprehensive to go on the perilous travel, but the adventurous spirit proves too hard to resist, and the band of fifteen begin their long journey. Only took ‘em forty minutes to get to that point.
I can certainly echo the sentiment that this movie is excessive in both its content and length, clocking in at about 2 hours and 45 minutes. In the movie’s defense, I can’t recall a single moment where I was ever bored. Sure, the overload of material does keep the movie from reaching the massive heights of its predecessor, but this is a project that deserves to be judged on its own strengths rather than those based on comparison. The movie still stays true to the spirit of what made Middle Earth such an engrossing world in the first place. Those who criticize the movie for being a bit more weighty in tone than it needs to be may have a point, but I think that helps in keeping consistency with the tones of the previous films.
If one thing can be made sure of, Jackson clearly hasn’t lost a step when it comes to visual splendor. He rallies together the same talented craft crew that he worked with before, including DP Andrew Lesnie, Production Designer Dan Hennah, Makeup Designer Richard Taylor, Composer Howard Shore, and Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri. All of these people perform their work to the highest caliber possible, hardly ever missing a beat during the epic set pieces, dazzling environments and towns, and the sweeping views of the terrain. Nine years later, and Middle Earth is still as enchanting as it ever was.
I haven’t even gotten into the talent that goes in front of the camera. I’ve already mentioned how good Freeman and McKellen are. The Dwarves are all quite entertaining, some more than others, even though they mostly blend together. If you’re looking for some more veteran cast members besides McKellen, you’ll find them as well, including the likes of Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and Hugo Weaving. Even Gollum, played to perfection once more by Andy Serkis, gets to make an appearance. What more can I say about him that hasn’t already been said. He shows up in what is without doubt the best scene in the whole movie. A sequence where he and Bilbo engage in a high stakes game of riddles, all set within the dimly lit catacombs of his lair. The foreboding sound and creepy imagery all work wonderfully in raising the tension of the situation.
Not everyone will enjoy The Hobbit, however. It asks a lot of patience, perhaps more than it should be, and I feel that something with a slightly simpler script and trimmed running time would have allowed it to be the amazing prequel it deserved to be. Judging it by what it is, though, there wasn’t much detriment to my enjoyment of this movie. Besides, it’s unfair to judge only a portion of a full movie, much in the same way of the original Lord of the Rings films. I’ll gladly tune in to the next two chapters yet to be released.
**** / *****