The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story of Bilbo Baggins and his adventures in Middle Earth. I read the book after I read, and saw, the Lord of the Rings series. I remember when I read the books thinking that The Hobbit was an easier and quicker read than LOTR. So when the news broke that it would be broken up into three movies, I was fairly confused. The movie did diminish that confusion somewhat, for which I am glad.

Peter Jackson, who did a marvellous job on LOTR, is back at the helm. This helps as it keeps the Middle Earth universe looking consistent. That said, I did not get the whole argument between 24fps and 48fps – perhaps I’m far too ignorant of film-making to understand what kind of difference this is meant to create.

I was a little surprised though – there were one or two points in the movie where…I can’t believe I’m saying this…it was painfully obvious some things on screen were CGI. One was when you see Smaug’s tail disappearing into Erebor, and another when the Eagles were flying over the mountains. I was not expecting that. Was this a result of the fps issue? Anyone more well-versed in these matters, please clue me in!

Anyway, the book, if you’ve read it, is meant for a younger audience but I’m not sure I was necessarily take children to this movie. Some action sequences, especially with the Wargs and Orcs might scare the young ones.

The acting is fantastic. Ian McKellen makes a fitting return as Gandalf, even though he inexplicably seems older than the LOTR movies (well yes, he’s obviously older, but bear in mind, the events of this movie are meant to take place well over half-a-century before LOTR). Martin Freeman does well as Bilbo Baggins, bringing a charming sense of humour and reality to the character – you forget he is Watson. He IS the hobbit. Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarf company, is magnificent. His kingly behaviour makes me think of Aragorn a lot. Excellent stuff right there.

The other dwarves are cast well, although it’s hard to say more since they don’t have, obviously, as much screentime as Thorin and Bilbo. I did get to see Aidan Turner’s Kili quite a bit, which is awesome (for me) since I’ve been a fan since watching BBC’s Being Human.

The villains…what have we got here? A fire-breathing dragon Smaug, whom we don’t really see (imagine my surprise when I found out Sherlock‘s and Star Trek‘s Benedict Cumberbatch is voicing the deadly dragon – AND another villain…coming up). A necromancer (Cumberbatch too apparently!) who is causing havoc in the forests of Mirkwood. Azog, the pale-skinned Orc, who has sworn revenge on Thorin for chopping off his hand (this isn’t in the book either). There’s even Saruman who makes a quick appearance, potentially to tie in this movie with LOTR – although those who will not have seen LOTR or read the books will not know the importance of his character, or the consequences/import of his appearance.

Gollum, however, is a star. Andy Serkis returns to his inspiring motion-capture performance as the schizophrenic creature, and it is his scene with Freeman/Baggins that makes The Hobbit worth the watch. Highly commendable part of the movie.

Purists might object, and they have. Why? LOTR, while making changes in the story with cinematic license, largely stuck to the books. The Hobbit definitely has the basic premise down pat: the dwarves wanting to reclaim their home and wealth along with the help of an unlikely ally, a hobbit. But what it doesn’t have is utter loyalty to the book.

Many changes have been brought on the script, including licenses taken with timelines as well as what was in the book. Who is Azog? Why is the necromancer in the movie at all? A Morgul blade? Where did Galadriel come from? I’ve read a lot of articles and listened to podcasts, and what I’ve taken away is this: using additional texts, appendices and unfinished works of Tolkien, the screenplay has encompassed parts of Middle Earth lore that relate to the tale in this book/movie, and which the makers thought would add to the entire storytelling. It does.

So my advice to the purists: buzz off. The movie is done well. Yes, cinematic license has been taken. Get over it. Or make the movie yourself and see if you can do it better.

Anyway, it may, at some times, seem slow. There were certain points where I did think: COME ON, MOVE ON! Some additions may seem stilted – for example, when the movie suddenly moved to Radagast the Brown (again, not there in the book AT ALL) in Mirkwood, it was beyond, beyond confusing for a few minutes. Who is he? Why is he there? Why are porcupines important, and … WHAT’S GOING ON?! I’m hoping all three movies will help put it all together, more neatly than this one felt.

Quick nod to the musical score…absolutely brilliant. Loved, loved, loved it.

While I do like the backstory and emphasis on motives and cause-and-effect that has been created in this movie, I’m wondering whether three movies were necessary. I’m hoping the next two installments will resoundingly tell me: Yes, we were.

My final verdict is that the movie was good – not as brilliant as I’d hoped, but I’ve a feeling the next two movies will more than make up for it. I’d say 3.75/5.

Note: This first installment of the trilogy spans the first six chapters of the book, along with more additions than I’d care to count.

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One thought on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review

  1. I’m pretty sure the CG looking obvious was due to the 48fps (which is insane). Gollum was REALLY well done.

    Also, more importantly, (and the only reason i’m commenting), a lot of the changes do not actually deviate.

    The Hobbit was the first book published in the Middle Earth legendarium, and was largely targeted at children. In writing LOTR, Tolkien expanded the events of The Hobbit several times. You can read the stories of Azog and the battle of Khazad Dum, The Necromancer (Sauron) taking Dol Guldur and much much more in the appendices to LOTR.

    Galadriel’s presence in Rivendell is also documented in the appendices, from what I recall.

    If you haven’t already, please read the Silmiarillion and Unfinished Tales. LOTR is not even near as epic as the events described in the first and second ages. The sword Gandalf picked up from the troll cave, Glamdring, once belonged to Turgon, king of Gondolin. The rise and fall of Gondolin is in itself a wonderful and epic read.

    As far as the purists are concerned, damn them to hell. The movie is far truer to the legendarium than the book.

    Sorry for geeking out.

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