Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage
When word got out that Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit was going to be the first of a trilogy, groans echoed to the ends of the earth. Hoping the film would simply be as compact as the child-friendly, bedtime story, some of us were naive enough to think the studios would shy away from the opportunity to reach into our precious pocketses. The first of the three, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will satisfy and disappoint audiences anticipating material worthy of an epic trilogy. While the narrative content may feel a little stretched (patching together bits and pieces of Tolkien’s other writings, including appendices to ‘The Lord of the Rings’), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rolls in the riches of 48 frames-per-second visual spectacle and Martin Freeman’s perfect fit as Bilbo Baggins.
Slow to start, but ultimately action-packed with an evil pasty orc, swarming goblins, and oafish trolls, The Hobbit follows the adventures of Bilbo Baggins after he chooses to join a band of dwarves and leave his comfy home in Bag End. Their final destination is Lonely Mountain, where the dwarves once reigned with power and prosperity until Smaug came and rained fire on their parade. Intent on reclaiming their home and piles upon piles of treasure (wherein lies their lost dignity), the dwarves must take a leap of faith as Gandalf recommends the affable halfling Bilbo to act as their burglar when it comes to getting past a dragon.
The opening of The Hobbit travels from old Bilbo to young Bilbo, with a heavy CG attack on dwarf city Erebor in between, just so we know a hobbit lives in a hole in the ground. That is the level of luxury returning writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and (was gonna but didn’t direct the movie) Guillermo del Toro have with the film’s 3 hour time limit. Despite this, and the overly emphasized tie-ins and run-ins with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the script does have nuggets of gold when it comes to Bilbo’s relationship with Gandalf and the crew of rowdy dwarves who are hesitant to fully embrace a hobbit into their dwarves-only club. While the mission headed by the dwarves doesn’t seem to personally involve Bilbo, and the motivations behind Bilbo’s decision to leave Bag End initially feel a little weak, The Hobbit is clever in drawing a strong character arc that is impressive, easy to follow, and touching at the same time. Martin Freeman’s well-cast role as Bilbo also makes it easy for audiences to feel invested in the delightfully colorful characters and their long-ass journey to Lonely Mountain. His scene with Andy Serkis – the one and only Gollum – is possibly the most enjoyable in the entire film.
The visually spectacular quality of the film’s innovative 3D technique also gives strength to the story’s big-scale, cinematic scenes, while dramatically tense scenes are given the intimacy and suspense they deserve. From rocky cliffs that come to life to Bilbo’s discovery of the ONE RING, The Hobbit offers some real delights that may have us sold to watch the next one.