Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty
“Bilbo Baggins, I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure,” says the Grey Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to the small Hobbit named Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in director Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
At first Bilbo wants nothing to do with an adventure, claiming it will make him miss his home the Shire and make him late for dinner. However, after meeting the 12 dwarves and their leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage). and being pushed by Gandalf, Bilbo agrees to join the quest of the dwarves who wish nothing more than to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor, which was lost long ago to the dragon Smaug.
In order to reach their old kingdom, the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo must travel through the treacherous goblin territory and avoid any orc armies (mortal enemies to the dwarves) who seem to be aware of their quest somehow. While struggling to escape from the dark and dreary Goblin tunnels, Bilbo meets a curious and ugly creature called Gollum. Cut off from the others, Bilbo must use his wit and find courage to beat Gollum in a game of riddles to find a way back to his comrades or face certain doom. In the process, Bilbo discovers Gollum’s “precious” – his only possession – a gold ring that could aid Bilbo in his quest but will eventually create a much bigger crisis for Middle-earth and Bilbo’s nephew.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fantasy action/adventure tale that takes a long time to get started but finally seems to find its pacing a little more than half-way through. Director Peter Jackson’s first installment of the prequel to his epic trilogy of The Lord of the Rings films seems to be muddled down with too much backstory on the dragon and the destruction of the dwarves’ kingdom even before getting started with its main story. It feels as though the writers and director are struggling to stretch a single novel into three films by filling the first 30 minutes of the film with fancy exposition.
The cast is extremely strong, led by Sir Ian McKellen reprising his role as the tough, wise and friendly wizard, Gandalf. He’s without a doubt the best thing about the film and knows exactly how to portray the Grey wizard. He simply is Gandalf. Martin Freeman is very effective as young Bilbo, the Hobbit who really wants to avoid any action or drama but eventually gives in to his own yearning to experience a life-changing adventure which will eventually change the course and destiny of Middle-earth for all time. However, Richard Armitage gives a heavy-handed and at times overbearing performance as the Dwarf Prince Thorin who wishes to reclaim his rightful kingdom and seek revenge for the wrongs done to his people.
The Hobbit has wonderful CGI special effects with the orcs and goblins being brought back to life. But, the different look and sizes of the orcs that the movie-going public witnessed in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is missing. Except for the leader, all of the other orcs look alike.
Another weakness in the film is the lack of character development with some of the dwarves. Out of the 13, only four are given any real personalities in the film. The others are just there. Unlike the far superior Lord of the Rings films which had much more interesting and memorable characters, Jackson’s The Hobbit is driven by three characters, Gandalf, Thorin and – of course – Bilbo.
The 3D in the film is completely unnecessary and actually has had some preview audiences complaining about feeling motion sickness. A word to the Middle-earth movie-goer, it would be wise not to pay the extra 3 to 5 dollars for the 3D effect. But if you do, make sure to sit further back in the theatre because the closer you are to the actual screen, the worse the motion sickness will be for the viewer.
Slow starting and a little too long, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a solid and entertaining first installment to the adventure of young Bilbo and his companions and will have fans of Middle-earth looking forward to the next chapter.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hit theaters on December 14, 2012 and is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
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