Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by: Peter Jackson.
Written by: Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Starring: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur / Tom Troll), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O'Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin / William Troll), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori / Bert Troll), Adam Brown (Ori), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast).

When I first heard that Peter Jackson was planning on splitting The Hobbit into not just two, but three different films I assumed, like many, that it was purely a monetary move – more movies means more box office. But after seeing the first part, I don’t think that’s the case (at least not for Jackson – the studio on the other hand, I’m not sure of). Because the nearly three hours of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey plays like a film where the director is too in love with the material – he doesn’t want to sacrifice a moment of his film. That isn’t to say that it is a bad movie – it is in fact quite good, with wonderful battle sequences, special effects, production design, music and performances – but it sure does feel padded. Cut out an hour of the film, and Jackson may well have had a great film on his hands.

The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins, a humble hobbit who lives a quiet life in the Shire, and that’s just the way he likes it. Than one day, Gandalf the Grey shows up at his door and invites him to go along on an adventure. Before Bilbo knows it, his hobbit hole is filled with Dwarves, who plan on storming their old home, beneath a mountain, that they were forced out of by a dragon decades before. Gandalf is going along on their quest, and feels they need to add the skills of Bilbo Baggins. What those skills are no one, not even Bilbo, seems to know.

The film was made by pretty much the same team that made The Lord of the Rings films – and it shows. Jackson strikes the same tone in this film as he did in that trilogy, and cast the same actors. Even nine years after the final Lord of the Rings films, it didn’t take long to sink back into the Middle Earth that Jackson and his team have created. The key addition to the cast is obviously Martin Freeman as Bilbo, and he is quite good. His plays the role more quiet and subtle than I expected him to – but this is actually effective, making Bilbo a more believable character. Ian McKellan sinks right back into the role of Gandalf like he never left it. Richard Armitage is excellent as Thorin, the leader of the Dwarves, strong, tough, brave, but also stubborn. The best performance in the film belongs, once again, to Andy Serkis as a slightly younger, but still crazy Gollum. The riddle scene between him and Bilbo is easily the best of the movie.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fine movie – not great like The Lord of the Rings films were, but entertaining nonetheless. While I certainly think the film is far too padded – and takes far too long in pretty much every scene – I cannot say I was ever bored by the film. Perhaps it’s just that Jackson has unrealistic expectations to try and meet with The Hobbit – that he already dazzled us with The Lord of the Rings, and now he’s got to return to that world and try to do it again (which is probably why initially, he wasn’t going to direct these movies). And The Hobbit, as good as it is, just isn’t as good as The Lord of the Rings. I have a hard time believing that Tolkien fans won’t enjoy the movie – hell, for perhaps the first time ever, fans of the book cannot complain that things were cut out of the movie version. The Hobbit could have using more editing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad film by any means.

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