Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott
Adventure does not always appear in the most convenient way in life. Sometimes it just gets thrust onto your lap and you have to make the decision right away with a bunch of hungry dwarves knocking on your door. At the very least that’s the way The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey portrays its tale. While it has its undeniable bright spots, this feature struggles in far too many aspects, with some coming in the story, as well as the aesthetic departure to an almost vomit-inducing level.
Perfectly content in his house in the Shire, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) gets a visit from wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who offers the young hobbit the opportunity to go on an incredible adventure. While initially hesitant, he agrees to join the band of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to retake their mountain home from a dangerous dragon.
Serving as the first film of a trilogy of films adapting an eye-wateringly simple 300-page novel, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brings a return to Middle Earth, which should be something to excite any lover of The Lord of the Rings. As you may know, those films are my personal favorite movies of all time, but everything on an aesthetic level in this feature borders on repulsive to the point where it allows for a larger discussion on the power of limited resources.
This mostly lands with Peter Jackson, who has directed my favorite films of all time but also this dud in such a reversal of quality it will make your head spin. Outside of the story elements, which will be divulged in more detail later, the biggest sin of this film comes from how artificial everything looks. I swear, comparisons to The Lord of the Rings will stop here but those films brought a level of reality to the sets, especially to the Shire but also the orcs, featuring impeccable makeup work. With the rise of technology since making those films, Jackson elected to utilize it more, and in commentaries has even stated he loves the looks of these orcs much better than in the first trilogy. An unfathomable statement to make and really gets down to what sinks this trilogy as a whole. All of it looks incredibly fake and adding the fantasy aspects gives it the appearance of having all the worst aspects this genre has to offer. This film really sums it up.
As for the story, it faces challenges in handling all of the dwarves, which makes sense because they can only each be given a limited amount of screentime with the main focus of the story being Bilbo and the way he steps up in unimaginable ways to eventually prove himself as a useful addition to the team. This needs to be proven to Thorin, the leader of the dwarves. Meek initially but the first one showing the world the simple beauty of Hobbits, Bilbo steps into this massive debacle much like his nephew Frodo will a couple of decades later. When laying the focus on Bilbo, the story works well, aided by a strong Martin Freeman performance as the young hobbit. He does well in capturing a particular youthfulness in the character, but also a budding sense of bravery demonstrating exactly what Gandalf saw in the character.
Different sequences have their shining moments like the one featuring the trolls with the very best one coming with Bilbo’s interaction with Gollum (Andy Serkis). A nearly perfect adaptation from the book capturing the game of wits involved and the danger the young hobbit has found himself in with this creature looking at him as a potential meal. This demonstrates the best the film had to offer but everything else in such an exorbitant runtime feels incredibly superfluous to demands for what this story needed to adapt and then tell as part of its story. One of the smaller but telling areas of this occurring comes in the inclusion of songs, which were smartly cut out of the first trilogy. Tolkien’s fairly boring poems interspersed throughout the novels get utilized far too often in this feature, which just shows how much unnecessary fluff exists here. A common occurrence you will see in the upcoming films.
Watching this feature simply makes me think what this could have been had Guillermo del Toro been given the opportunity to fulfill his vision with this story. Unfortunately, this mixed bag of the film delivers some interspersed strong moments but far too much fluff on top of the ugly aesthetic of the feature overall to show these films may have been misguided in their effort to rake in cash. An unfortunate turn for such a small and enrapturing story.