Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis
Release date: December 12th, 2012
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Countries: New Zealand, UK, USA
Running time: 169 minutes
Best part: Bilbo and Gollum’s game of riddles.
Worst part: The excessive 2hr 50min length.
Peter Jackson’s much anticipated return to Middle Earth has been through its own unexpected journey. Economic and production issues led to Jackson’s reluctant return to the director’s chair. His first instalment of the Hobbit trilogy is still likely to delight fans and conquer box office records. This return to the world Jackson built a decade ago is an uneven yet still wildly enjoyable adaptation of J.R.R Tolkien’s classic 1937 novel. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey succeeds in certain places and falters in others, becoming a polarising continuation of a cinematic masterpiece.
Bilbo Baggins, Ian Holm’s character from the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, sits down to write a book of his great adventures. The film then travels back 60 years and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is a contented Hobbit living a peaceful existence in the Shire. His plans are rudely disrupted by the abrupt intrusion of twelve Dwarves from the once great city of Erebor. Driven out of their lands by the evil forces of Middle Earth, the Dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), hatch a dangerous plan to take back their home. This group of Dwarves is the work of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), who persuades Bilbo to join them on their quest. Bilbo, reluctantly agreeing to leave the Shire, must find the courage to survive the obstacles in his path. While aiding the group on the road that lies ahead.
Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit has received criticism from critics and fans alike. Using 48 frames-per-second film production technology and extending the content of one novel between three films hinder what could have been a masterpiece of fantasy film-making. Despite being the first act of this expansive narrative, An Unexpected Journey is merely a visual splendour that may or may not distract from its structural flaws. Jackson’s work on the original LOTR trilogy was a staggering feat. He captured a world-wide audience of both film aficionados and eager-to-please LOTR fans. However, His work here has created an uneven and at points confusing journey. Jackson has pushed the beginning of his new trilogy into similar territory as The Fellowship of the Ring. All too familiar elements make An Unexpected Journey feel like an monotonous trip there and back again. The grouping of contrasting characters, endless shots of New Zealand’s mountainous scenery and Howard Shore’s influential score depict Jackson’s obsession with the mythology and structure of his original trilogy.
The film’s opening hour is an unending mess of slapstick gags, wacky characters and exposition. Two prologues, though helpful in bring the uninitiated viewer into this labyrinth, divert the real focus of this story. The narrative itself is bloated, illustrating the problem with stretching one novel across a multiple film franchise. Unessential comedic moments dilute the darkly sickening aura of this evolving quest. The Dwarves are defined by bodily functions, unintentional destruction and wacky facial features. Their comedic sequences distract from the story’s essential elements. While a goofy and unending troll sequence turns into extensively bumbling comedic material. Thankfully, the film’s second and third acts allow the awe-inspiring action sequences and CGI creations to crawl and crash through the screen. Middle Earth has expanded from the previous trilogy, creating a breath-taking and unique look at a world we’ve seen before. Jackson’s use of CGI however distracts from the multi-layered practical effects. The visceral quality of the LOTR trilogy has been replaced with several blatantly-green-screen sequences.
“I do believe the worst is behind us.” (Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).
Where the film manages to equal the original trilogy is through its many captivating performances. Freeman’s portrayal of Bilbo is charismatic and uplifting. Freeman, able to handle both dramatic and comedic material with BBC’s Sherlock and The Office, finds a balance between baffled and courageous. Bilbo creates an uneasy alliance between him and the rest of this bumbling fellowship. His vulnerabilities are what make him ‘human’, while his innate courage makes him a much more empathetic lead character than Frodo. Another stand out here is Andy Serkis as Gollum. Serkis brought motion capture performance into the spotlight with Gollum several years ago. His wriggling, schizophrenic creation has to be seen to be believed. Both Serkis and Freeman fight with wits instead of swords in their tension-inducing game of riddles. The light bounces off of Gollum’s enormous eyes, illuminating every splayed wrinkle and facial twitch.
Despite its inconsistencies, An Unexpected Journey is still a fitting example of cinematic fantasy. With The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug out next year, Jackson may have to focus on the narrative before taking another step toward box office success.