Film Review – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit

Ah it’s good to be back. During the first 20 minutes of The Hobbit when Bilbo is, without choice, inviting a number of dwarves into his home, it’s as if Peter Jackson is doing the very same to us. We’ve been away awhile but we’re back and Jackson is inviting into the place he clearly feels most comfortable. He wants us to kick back, put our regular-sized feet up and return to Middle-Earth and, for the most part, he does a stellar job in making us feel like we’ve never been away.

As we all already know, The Hobbit is set before the events of Lord of the Rings. The film starts of with a prologue of sorts, providing some exposition that will become the basis of the film, much like there was in Fellowship of the Ring. The Dwarves’ homeland, Erebor, has been taken over by Smaug the Dragon. However, a band of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) are determined to take it back. They team up with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) who tells them that they should enlist hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a ‘burglar’ to help them. Despite himself, Bilbo agrees and they go on their way.

Sometimes when you return years later to somewhere you have fond memories of, things might not be quite how you remember and you’re left feeling a little disillusioned. Not so with Middle-Earth. Within moments, you’re right back in the comfortable world of The Shire and Bag End, as if it’s nary been nine months, let alone nine years, since we last visited. The fields are lush and green, there’s whimsy in the air and the pitter patter of huge Hobbit feet in and around Bag End. And the first faces we’re greeted with are one we’re very familiar with, that of Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Bilbo (Ian Holm) exactly as we remember them in LOTR. This familiarity continues throughout as we meet other characters we’re already acquainted with, including Saruman (Sir Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and, of course, Gandalf.

Bilbo and a few of many dwarvesHowever, it doesn’t take long (mere minutes, in fact) to establish that this story is to be told in a very different way. There are many similarities at this stage between The Hobbit and LOTR - a Hobbit joins a group who trek a long distance to achieve a seemingly unachievable goal – but this is handled with much more humour and lightheartedness than Frodo’s adventure. This is unsurprising considering Tolkien wrote The Hobbit primarily as a children’s book whereas LOTR was much more adult orientated. The dwarves add a layer of humour that wasn’t there in LOTR which does detract a little from the epicness of the story, although, again, this isn’t LOTR, it’s a different story altogether that happens to be set in the same world.

Unfortunately, it is when the film meets the few direct crossovers with LOTR that it really hits the high notes, specifically the Riddles in the Dark sequence. This is perhaps the most famous section of the book, where Bilbo meets Gollum and engages him in a game of riddles. It also absolutely fundamental to the entire LOTR story, giving it much more significance than most of the rest of the film, as we already know the consequences of the outcome. Andy Serkis is superb as ever as Gollum, his sinewy movements and raspy voice both creepy and mesmerising, adding a much needed darker layer to the story.

Whilst Andy Serkis’ Gollum was always a money in the bank moment, the other standout performance is Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Within but a few minutes of meeting our diminutive protagonist, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Freeman displays the perfect combination of fussiness, humour and humility to perfectly embody Bilbo and make him a more interesting, identifiable and likeable character than Frodo ever was. Jackson’s casting has been consistently spot-on and it’s easy to see why he was so adament that Freeman was right for the part.

What has it got in its pocketses?Aside from the usual Middle-Earth stalwarts, many of the new characters are rather forgettable, specifically the dwarves. Simon Armitage does a decent enough job as Thorin Oakenshield, an Aragorn/Boromir hybrid, but many of the other dwarves simply don’t have enough about them. Of course, with so many of them (13 in total) it was always going to be difficult to give them each enough screen time and Jackson’s hands were somewhat tied by the book, but many of them are relegated to background characters and are really rather pointless.

One criticism many have had of The Hobbit is that it’s too long and there is some weight to that argument. There are a good few sections that feel lengthy and unnecessary, particularly during the first act when the story takes a little too long to get going. However, once it does find its feet, it rattles along at a fair old rate and is very well paced with several standout moments. Having said that, the action does feel a little samey after a while; each orc battle seems to blend into the next and having Gandalf turn up and save the day for the nth time feels a little too easy. It’s actually rather impressive that Jackson is spreading The Hobbit out over three films, although this means that he is incorporating sections that aren’t actually in the book. Gandalf’s wizard brethren Radagast, for example, actually only appears in LOTR rather than The Hobbit yet has a reasonably significant role. It’s not going to matter to most but may irk purists.

As part of a trilogy, The Hobbit doesn’t quite work as well as a standalone film as Fellowship did, but it’s still an immensely enjoyable experience. It genuinely feels like a worthy accompaniment to Frodo’s story; a separate story entirely whilst having its feet firmly in the same universe. Any misgivings this film may bring should be reviewed once the second and third films have been released, but this is a solid start that bodes well for the rest of the trilogy.

About the 48fps HFR

Jackson’s argument in favour of the new 48fps high frame rate is that it builds a much more immersive experience, but, to start with at least, it’s little more than distracting. At times, everything seems to be almost double speed with Bilbo scuttling around like a pint-sized Benny Hill. It also makes much of it look like a TV movie, which does detract from the overall experience a little. However, you do get used to it as the film goes on and it significantly improves the picture quality of the 3D. It makes everything look crystal clear which really increases the breathtaking scale of the amazing New Zealand vistas, although it does actually cheapen the CGI, making it evident that a lot of green screen action is going on. It’s an interesting experiment from Jackson but the old adage of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ springs to mind.

Chris

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24 thoughts on “Film Review – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. Caz says:

    Brilliant review, pleased you were happy returning to Middle Earth as well!

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. The film did look a bit off in my screening, and the scene with the goblins underground looked like miniature when I’m sure it wasn’t supposed to. Overall the film was just alright, if a bit boring and disjointed by Jackson wanting to put everything into this one movie.

    • Thanks man. Yeah the HFR definitely didn’t work for me, 24fps works just fine. I just hope it doesn’t catch on. The film itself was a little bloated but still pretty enjoyable. Doesn’t quite hit the heights of any of the LOTR films though.

  3. “it’s still an immensely enjoyable experience. It genuinely feels like a worthy accompaniment to Frodo’s story; a separate story entirely whilst having its feet firmly in the same universe.” Nice. Glad to hear someone else liked it too. I think a lot of people are bemoaning how let down they were, and I just dont see it… there’s a guy who did the review for CNN that shredded it. LOL. Suffice it to say its nice to come across another favorable view.

    As to the 48FPS… it was really jarring to me at first, but I settled in and really loved it. I think it only feels “fast motion” because you can see every step of the way as opposed to your mind filling in the blanks. I was a big fan, but again, I think I’m on my own…

    • Yeah I think it’s coming in for some overly harsh criticism. It’s so easy to compare it to LOTR but it’s a different story told in a different way. I think a lot of people just wanted more of the same. It’s by no means perfect but I still enjoyed it a lot.
      I really wasn’t sold on the HFR, although it did grow on me as it went on. Perhaps it was just because it was the first time I’d seen it and if it became more common I’d get used to it but I didn’t like the way, for me anyway, that it made the CGI really obvious. I must say that it did make the thing look beautiful; it made the 3D so much clearer. It was certainly interesting to see someone trying something different though.

  4. Beer Movie says:

    Cool review man. Will definitely be checking this out when it opens here. Glad to hear Martin Freeman is good in it. I am a massive fan of his work in Sherlock.

    • Thanks very much! Yeah Martin Freeman is brilliant as Bilbo, I can’t imagine anyone better. I agree, he’s great in Sherlock and loved him in The Office too. He’s really lucked out with this part though, he’s not done anything like this scale before.

  5. Tyson Carter says:

    Sounds good dude. I only really liked the original trilogy because of the epic fight scenes, but Im hearing this film isnt really going down that route. Still, I will pick it up on blu ray I imagine. Nice write up :)

    • Thanks man :-) yeah there aren’t any battle scenes of the same scale in this so it probably wouldn’t live up to the LOTR films. From what I can remember, there’s a pretty epic battle coming up in the story, although I’m not sure if that’ll be in the second or third film. Too many films for a relatively short story!

      • Helmi says:

        There will be a huge battle towards the end! Unless he decides to re write the book but can’t see that happening with his attention to detail.

        I really enjoyed it, personally wasn’t a huge fan of Gollum in this one, too much split personality, that’s not in the book really. However, I loved Martin Freeman. I think the additions are interesting and at least consistent with trying to tie the two stories together more closely and they aren’t too far off the truth so shouldn’t bother us ‘purists’!

        I didn’t even know it was filmed in any special way and I didn’t watch it in 3D. This may be sacrilege on here but I don’t like 3D. I didn’t notice anything funny about it when I was watching it, so I guess maybe if you aren’t looking for it…

        Anyway, I live in Middle Earth and the scenery looked fantastic but I did notice that there seemed to be some really bad CGI effects. Some things just didn’t look real like they did in the LOTR.

        Anyway, great review Chris, keep them coming, definitely an incentive to watch some things that we wouldn’t normally.

        Helmi :o)

      • I must confess that the book is somewhat of a haze to me now so little details and changes are a bit lost on me. I still liked Gollum but I did actually think the split personality thing was a little overdone; he wasn’t that bad in LOTR I don’t think.

        It must be pretty amazing to live in Middle Earth :-) I didn’t notice the dodgy CGI scenery but some of the general CGI was a bit naff at times.

        It was filmed in 48 frames per second whereas films are usually done in 24. However, the 48 is only available on 3d showings so if you saw it in 2d you won’t have seen it, but you haven’t missed out on much to be honest, it’s a bit odd. And as for 3d, I’m right with you, I much prefer traditional 2d the vast majority of the time. Most 3d is rubbish!

        Thanks for stopping by and commenting, always nice to see you round these parts :-) hope you’re well and enjoying a warmer than usual Christmas!

  6. Awesome review. I’ve never been a LOTR fan (don’t kill me haha), but I think I’ll be seeing this at somepoint. I did love Serkis’ performance as Gollum.

  7. Nostra says:

    I quite enjoyed it and agree that the HFR does take some time to get used to, but I was a fan of it and like you said it adds to the 3D.

  8. Great review. I’m starting to think there’s something wrong with me, Everyone seems to love The Hobbit. I hated it!

  9. This movie was so EPIC i’m speechless. I went with high expectations because Peter Jackson is awesome, but man, they weren’t high ENOUGH. I couldn’t see any flaw in this movie at all, they do change the way some events happened, but they’re details and don’t really change the story, actually you can tell they were needed.Jackson also adds some information, but he did say beforehand that he would, and is taken from other Tolkien stories, and as I haven’t read them, I was very happy with the change because they were things I didn’t know. The way the movie starts is very clever, and the whole introduction before the journey is almost exactly like the book, which I enjoyed very much. The fights scenes, just exactly as LOTR are INCREDIBLE,very well done, and with some funny moments as well. The cast is flawless, I think every actor portrays their character to perfection, I was happy with all the acting choices. The part of the book they picked to end the movie was great, the book though is basically divided into three main events, so it was somewhat predictable, but the scene they made to end the movie was perfect!!. So Basically if you’re a Tolkien fan, or just LOTR-Hobbit fan you’ll be puking rainbows of epicness throughout the movie.I had the luck to go to the premiere, but i’m obviously gonna go watch it again on IMAX.

    • Wow that is praise indeed and that is pretty cool you got to go to the premiere! I can’t say I loved it quite as much as yourself but I did enjoy it and I’m looking forward to the next one. I am dubious as to how they’ll string it out over three films though, but I’ll still probably go and see them!

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