The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure."

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure.”

I have to apologize for the lack of updates in recent months.  I was busy with my final semester of college, which didn’t leave a lot of time for blog entries.  Now I’m done with school and I have plenty of time, so I should be posting more regularly for the foreseeable future.  I’m excited, not only because I have returned to the site, but also because my first entry in months is a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

How can a journey be truly unexpected when one has been waiting years for it?  The Hobbit is easily the film I’ve anticipated most this year. I’m a huge fan of the book, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and Middle-earth in general.  Considering my enthusiasm for the material, there was no way I could approach An Unexpected Journey with an objective eye.  My review, then, should be seen for what it is: a fan who enjoyed every second of the film.The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins essentially in the same way as the novel.  The hobbit Bilbo Baggins is enjoying a peaceful life when he is approached by the wizard Gandalf and a company of Dwarves, who whisk him away on an adventure.  The Dwarves are on a journey to the Lonely Mountain, where they had a powerful kingdom until a dragon named Smaug conquered it, stealing their treasure.  The scenes taken from the book are mostly rendered faithfully, and they are the best scenes in the movie.

Where An Unexpected Journey might have been derailed is in Jackson’s decision to connect the movie to his Lord of the Rings film trilogy, making The Hobbit as a “prequel” rather than a story on its own.  He added cameos from Rings actors, created a subplot that foreshadows the trilogy, and even constructed certain Hobbit scenes to resemble sections from the Fellowship film.  I have some criticisms about these aspects of the movie, especially because they take time away from Bilbo’s story, but on the other hand, I like The Lord of the Rings and I’m interested to see how Jackson will develop the connections in the next two movies.  I wish I could have seen a version of The Hobbit without the additions, but ultimately, the new scenes are worth seeing.

Thorin Oakenshield is the leader of the Dwarves, and the driving force behind the journey.

Thorin Oakenshield is the leader of the Dwarves, and the driving force behind the journey.

An Unexpected Journey is inhabited by Hobbits, wizards, Dwarves, Elves, Goblins, and even hedgehogs, but the film is notable because it completely lacks human characters.  Considering the assortment of creatures could have alienated the audience, the actors should be commended for providing the characters with such human emotions and concerns.  Martin Freeman is a fantastic Bilbo, capturing both his humour and his doubt about his own heroism.  Not all of the Dwarves are developed yet, but those who are have been given distinct personalities:  Thorin is the bitter, driven leader who wishes to regain his homeland; Balin is both a warrior and an advisor, wise in his old age; Kili and Fili are the youngest Dwarves, providing youthful mischief and comic relief.  Those are just some examples that stood out in the first movie.  I’m interested to see how Jackson will continue to develop the company of Dwarves in the rest of the trilogy.

Other actors in the film besides Bilbo and the Dwarves give excellent performances.  Andy Serkis once again brings Gollum to life through motion capture, managing to portray both the dangerous and the sympathetic sides of the character successfully.  Ian McKellen is still the perfect choice for Gandalf.  McKellen didn’t originally want to play the wizard again, but I’m glad he changed his mind, because no other actor would have worked.  Sylvestor McCoy joins the cast as Radagast the Brown, a wizard connected to nature.  Some have criticized Jackson’s quirky additions to Radagast’s character, but the changes help to make him separate from the more serious wizards and he fits the light-hearted tone of the book.  The only weak acting I noticed came from Christopher Lee, who returned as Saruman.  I was happy that he could be in the film, but it almost seemed like he was just reading his lines.  Saruman was always a bit dry, I suppose.

One of Peter Jackson’s more controversial decisions when filming The Hobbit trilogy was his choice to shoot it at 48 frames per second, a frame rate twice as fast as most films.  Even before the movie came out, people were criticizing the technology.  However, I have been excited about the frame rate since it was announced and I definitely wanted to see the movie at that speed, especially since Jackson believes it to be the best way to watch the film.  Luckily, I was able to see the 48 frames per second version at the theatre nearby and I loved it.  The motion seemed a bit weird initially, but my eyes adjusted after a couple minutes and everything looked better.  Everything from the actors to the locations appears more real, as if Middle-earth exists in front of you.  The natural environment of New Zealand is especially amazing at the higher frame rate.  Some people have criticized the technology for making the special effects, costumes, and set look fake, but I was enjoying the experience too much to even think about that.  That said, the time it takes to adjust to the high frame rate seems to vary depending on the viewer, and it could be distracting when you first see the film.  I should also mention that I saw it in 3D, which was very good, even if it wasn’t necessary for every scene.

Despite Jackson's additions, Bilbo's journey is still at the heart of The Hobbit.

Despite Jackson’s additions, Bilbo’s journey is still at the heart of The Hobbit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an immensely satisfying adventure that features great characters, an amazing atmosphere, and exciting visuals.  If you revel in stories of Hobbits and wizards, the first Hobbit film will be a welcome return to the land of Middle-earth.  For people unacquainted with Tolkien’s world, Peter Jackson’s artistic direction and the spectacle of the battle scenes should be enough to keep them entertained.  I give the film a 5 out of 5, because I enjoyed it far too much to give it anything less.