It has been eleven years since director Peter Jackson (King Kong, The Lovely Bones) released the first installment of his groundbreaking Lord of the Rings trilogy, based on the classic series of novels by J.R.R. Tolkien. Jackson’s trilogy, being nominated for a total of 30 Academy Awards, winning 17, is still highly and widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best movie trilogy of all time, contending even the original Star Wars trilogy. After the release of the Academy Award winning capper to the trilogy, The Return of the King, many have wondered if, and when, Jackson would be set to direct The Hobbit, the beloved prequel to the Rings trilogy, also written by Tolkien. Well, it is 2012, and the first installment of the Hobbit trilogy is among us. Let’s get into this baby.
If you have been living under a cave for the past hundred or so years and you don’t know the plot to The Hobbit, let me briefly inform you. A young hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is approached by the great wizard Gandalf. He asks Bilbo to go with him and thirteen dwarves on an adventure to reclaim their gold they lost to a dragon that inhabited the mountain that was once their home. After deciding to go on the journey, Bilbo and the gang are faced with deadly situations and exhilarating battles that make Bilbo eventually miss his home in Bag End, but he desperately wants to help the dwarves “reclaim their homeland.”
With that said, let’s go ahead and get the elephant out of the room. Believe it or not, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is hardly as entertaining, or even engrossing, as The Fellowship of the Ring was. That is largely due to the pacing, which is the biggest flaw of this entire movie. I have read the phenomenal children’s book by J.R.R. Tolkien and I have an understanding for what he was trying to accomplish. It took a few pages (by that I mean at least 30) for the undecided Bilbo Baggins to finally agree to go on an adventure with the great wizard Gandalf and the thirteen dwarves. While in the book, Tolkien took his time setting things up all while throwing in complex sentences and meaty colloquy, Peter Jackson’s film version is quite different. Sure, some die hard fans will argue that the fact that Jackson follows the book virtually word for word is a good thing, but I disagree. The fact that the film follows the book with almost line for line dedication results in some ultimately boring dialogue and an overlong intro. Yes, it takes almost an hour for poor Bilbo to finally agree to go with the company of adventure seekers. It’s a little rough to get through. Sometimes filmmakers need to realize that books are written for literary enjoyment, and that sometimes things need to be adjusted in order to create a satisfying film experience. There are various scenes throughout the film that seem to go on forever. One of which incolves Gandalf talking with Elrond (Hugo Weaving). I like Weaving and all, but I feel like that 10 minute sequence could have easily been cut from the film. It had no attatchment to the plot. Also, at 166 minutes, the movie is way overlong. I mean way overlong. And that is coming from a die hard LOTR fan. It occasionally feels like an overlong drag. Also throw in the fact that Radagast the Brown has some screen time. Believe me, this character is pretty annoying, almost reaching the annoyance level of Griffin in Men in Black III (a film that I actually liked a lot) and Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels (yeah, not so much.)
A few more flaws may be addressed later in this review, but those are the main flaws I had with this movie. Now, we are free to discuss the positives, which are many, by the way. The first is the most obvious: the visuals. One cannot go into a movie that takes place in Middle Earth under the direction of Peter Jackson and expect lower than average visual effects. After the astonishingly epic battles in the LOTR, Jackson once again nails it. This movie, even in the slower scenes, is simply astounding to behold. Granted, I did not see this movie in 48 frames per second, so I cannot speak for the high frame rate, but as for the 24 fps 3D version, it is absolutely gorgeous. Like the previous trilogy, Jackson filmed An Unexpected Journey in New Zealand, combined with some special effects of course, which creates some of the biggest and ambitious shots I have seen in a film all year. Those special effects, though, come with a price. Unlike the trilogy that came before it, Jackson leans more toward effects on the Orcs than simply applying grotesque makeup to an actor, creating a set of villains that may look okay for the film’s sake, but ultimately feel like the result of slothfulness on part of the filmmakers. But, life goes on, once you accept where Jackson decides to take you. And one place he takes you is to Gollum. The scene between Gollum and Bilbo, and Bilbo’s first encounter with the ring, is the best scene in this entire movie. It is too bad that Andy Serkis (the voice of Gollum) doesn’t qualify for an Oscar, because he sure deserves one. He gives one of one of the best performances of the year, and it’s the best I’ve ever seen from Gollum. Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson on BBC’S Sherlock) is absolutely perfect as Bilbo, and every time I saw him standing next to the dwarves, and even more so Gandalf, broadcasting his tiny body size, a giant nerdy smile came over my face. He is a joy. Also, the ever great Gandalf, this time Gandalf the Grey, played by the aging but still inexplicably entertaining Sir Ian McKellen, demands audiences’ eyes during every minute of screen time. Also, the dwarves in this film, although undoubtedly hard to care for and get attached to due to the number of them, are still entertaining and very humorous. I busted a gut on more than one occasion.
Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth is a good one, and it is littered with good gems and some exhilarating action sequences and breathtaking shots. The 3D pops and the visual effects are staggering. Unfortunately, the film takes too long to get going, a few scenes are less than necessary, and the overall film is about 30 minutes too long. I think this trilogy, would have been better off if left at just one or two movies. Three seems to be pushing it. There definately is a lot to love about An Unexpected Journey, and once it gets going, it doesn’t slow down. The final hour or so of this movie is some of the best and most entertaining action I have seen all year. It’s a shame Jackson doesn’t get us there quicker. A bit of a disappointment here.
Run Time: 166 minutes
Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ian Holme, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, and Andy Serkis
Written by: Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro
Directed by: Peter Jackson