The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Today’s movie is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Peter Jackson’s long-awaited first installment in what is now a trilogy of prequels to The Lord of the Rings. The film is fantastically directed, brilliantly acted, and visually mesmerizing. This all proves just enough to compensate for the fact that there’s really not a whole lot of story told in the film’s 166 minutes.
As I sit here thinking about what I have to say about the film, its occurring to me that what follows may cause it to appear that I didn’t enjoy this movie. This would be far, far from the truth. I really did enjoy the film, and I firmly believe that Jackson and company did the best job possible of adapting about about 150 pages of a children’s fantasy novel into an epic film, while remaining more or less true to the source material. The tone of the is spot-on. The acting, particularly from the three principal cast members; Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Martin Freeman as Bilbo, and Richard Armitage as Thorin, is really exemplary.
The film’s biggest problem is two-fold. First, the stakes in J.R.R. Tolkein’s first novel simply are simply nowhere near as high as the staring-down-the-apocalypse style drama provided by The Lord of the Rings. Second, the book is truly a single volume, causing this, the first part of the cinematic trilogy to feel very incomplete.
As I mentioned in my review for The Fellowship of the Ring, I view that film as just an extended first act of a larger adventure. This is even more true for An Unexpected Journey, except that the the larger adventure isn’t quite as large this time around. As a result, the whole film seems like an extended prologue. We take time to re-establish the world, and plenty of time to introduce the characters, and the back story of more than a couple of them. At the end of the film it feels like the journey is only just beginning, but that not much has actually happened yet.
Those criticisms aside there was a lot that I liked about this movie. First and foremost, it was a great deal of fun seeing Middle Earth and its familiar inhabitants once again. For example, although I felt that it was totally unnecessary, I absolutely adored seeing Elijah Wood’s briefly appear as Frodo one more time. More necessary to the plot, (and really the best part of the film,) was the scene where Bilbo encounter’s Gollum. Andy Serkis is absolutely fantastic, and the whole “Riddles in the Dark” sequence which ranges from funny, to scary, to sad, is a joy to watch.
To me, the real appeal of this film is the pleasure of spending more time in a fantastic cinematic world. While if I’m completely honest this film lacks the dramatic weight to, properly, justify an epic running time, the film works because Jackson paces it as well as could be hoped, and because the world and its characters are so entertaining.
I do, however, have to admit that the lack of serious dramatic weight does mean that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a distinct step down in bottom-line quality from any of the films in the Rings trilogy. Fortunately, the film does end well, and I do feel confidant more than hopeful that the final two films in this trilogy will return to “Must See” territory. That said, judged on its own, this movie doesn’t get to that lofty rating. It is, however, absolutely worth seeing.