The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review
When I first saw LORD OF THE RINGS: FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, I was forever changed with an incredible moviegoing experience that has yet to be matched. Like many people, to say I love these films would be an understatement of epic proportions. You can imagine my excitement when news broke that Peter Jackson would be returning to create J.R.R. Tolkien’s first novel, THE HOBBIT, that I may once again revisit the awesome and beautiful power that is Middle Earth. So it pains me to say, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is quite literally an unexpected journey of disappointment.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY takes place sixty years before FELLOWSHIP, where we find a younger Bilbo Baggins (this time played by the very likable Martin Freeman) in his quaint little Hobbit home in the Shire. He is visited by some unknown and unwelcomed guests, thirteen dwarves and a wizard to be exact. The wizard is Gandalf the Grey (performed by the always remarkable Ian McKellen) and the baker’s dozen are led by the courageous Dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage). The group is about to embark on a dangerous adventure to reclaim the home and treasure of the dwarves that was taken from them many years ago by the fire-breathing dragon Smaug. The journey will be treacherous, fighting Orcs, Goblins and other beasts with low probability of success, but Gandalf believes unassuming Bilbo to be the unlikely key for victory.
It’s important for audiences to understand that THE HOBBIT is more of a children’s story compared to the grand evil and end of life tale from LORD OF THE RINGS. Now that’s not to say the movie is for kids. I mean, what child is going to sit through 179 minutes for a story that is only a third of the way done? But the film is definitely geared more towards a younger audience with additional singing, silly gags and physical humor. I’m not upset with the softer telling of the story but rather the execution of the telling. Underdeveloped characters, bland dialogue and a lacking sense of danger were all prevalent shortcomings. The biggest problem lies in the one area where one would expect the most consistency, the production value. Director Peter Jackson managed to take a great product that he created and made it worse. I like to call this process the George Lucas effect. The Orcs are no longer played by humans but have instead been replaced by CGI effects. During almost every chase scene, our heroes don’t appear to fit on the background. Their feet seem to hover on the landscape, removing all sense of realism that audiences have grown accustomed to and love.
Director Peter Jackson is also trying a new form of filmmaking by shooting 48fps (48 frames per second), that might turn many people off and will surely be a controversial choice. The effect is suppose to provide an even quicker, seamless picture that should appear as though we are right there within the action. I’m not an authority on the technical aspects visually or whether this is good or bad for film, but I can speak from personal experience that I did not care for it. I attribute the distaste to the fact that our brains are accustomed to seeing movies in a different format. Perhaps, it is a technique that I and others will get used to, but like the 3D fad that is currently happening, is it really necessary? To top it off, Jackson enlisted an odd double time effect where the editing sometimes speeds up the action. This all made for an uneasy, unnatural look.
The other big issue is the choice to divide THE HOBBIT into three films. I own the extended LORD OF THE RINGS and can’t imagine not watching the four hour versions. So I’m clearly a fan of the lengthy detail within the story. But when it came to THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, the pacing is all over the place, dragging on far longer than needed. We get to see many familiar places and faces like Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. We even get a glimpse of Ian Holm and Elijah Wood as Bilbo and Frodo to open the film. While these are nice call backs and in some cases intricate to the story, most of it felt forced as if they were showcasing the fact that they’re in the film, giving a wink and a nod to the previous trilogy, ultimately becoming completely unnecessary. The one great exception is Gollum, who looks better than ever. Andy Serkis once again is exquisite with his performance and the entire time Gollum is on screen the film comes alive with energy.
There are other positives as well. The beating score, gorgeous landscape, beautiful art direction and Gandalf once again spouting mad knowledge all come into play once again. It’s just a shame that the film feels more like a cartoon rather than the multi-Oscar winning films prior. The disappointment stings a little more due to the expectations created from the previous films, setting the high standard to which THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY was supposed to replicate.
I think the most important thing I can say to readers is – Lower Your Expectations. I hope that will ultimately make the biggest difference to whether or not you are able to overlook the numerous faults and immerse yourself once again into Middle Earth. Perhaps this small advice will prevent you from screaming, “WHAT WAS THAT?!,” as I did when the final credits rolled. But there is still enough hope and love in my heart to be optimistic about the next two.