March 18, 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

A mostly expected journey…

The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Movie Poster
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis
Studio: New Line Cinema
Release Date: December 14, 2012

Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows in the tradition of his Lord of the Rings trilogy. It is a delicious fantasy stuffed full of dwarves, wizards, trolls, goblins, and a gold-loving dragon. The CGI effectively gives life and scale to each unique race. As a prequel to LOTR, the script is bursting with backstory; showing evil slowly creeping towards Mordor for the eventual war for Middle Earth. The film is also gluttonous. Jackson gives every obscure character with a passing mention in the novel, like a brown wizard or shadowy necromancer, needlessly extended scenes in this near three-hour exercise in patience. The story is stretched thin to somehow turn this children’s book into a three-parter as a desperate Hollywood attempt to secure consistent ticket sales.

In short, audiences will feel the same about The Hobbit as they did with Jackson’s LOTR trilogy. It does nothing to address previous criticisms and gives more of what made LOTR a blockbuster franchise.

The plot sticks to that of the novel, though certain liberties are taken to conform to conventional Hollywood storytelling. Thirteen dwarves aim to take their city and gold back from the dragon Smaug. The wizard Gandalf (McKellen) recruits hobbit Bilbo (Freeman) to assist in the adventure. All the while, Bilbo must convince Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage), the dwarves’ leader, of his commitment to the journey.

Of course there isn’t a complete story provided as the plot has been split into three films. Smaug is hardly seen, much less defeated. Unexpectedly, the script does carry one of its many subplots to completion; providing a sense of closure for this first installment. Bilbo is homesick. He can return home at any point while the dwarves are outcasts and homeless. Thorin grows weary of Bilbo’s seemingly lack of loyalty. This subplot plays throughout the film until its resolution, providing purpose and heroic moments to a climax that would otherwise feel like just another battle.

The film is long but never feels unbearable. Action scenes take place at the appropriate moments to kick up the pace after scene of melodramatic debate. The battles never do capture the grandness and danger of what we’ve seen before. Even the return of Serkis’s Golem doesn’t demand the same awe. I must recognize this dismissive attitude exists because Jackson already has tackled larger foes and greater battles. However, during The Hobbit’s most exciting scenes, such as the dwarves slashing their way through the never-ending caverns of Goblin Town, the viewer is reminded how comfortable it is to spend a few hours of escape in this fantasy world.

I put off seeing the film originally once it was announced The Hobbit would be three films instead of two. I didn’t think I had the energy for anymore of J.R.R. Tolkien’s world after having read the books, watched the animated features, attended each LOTR installment on during their opening weekends, and then sitting through the extended cuts. I was wrong. For those fans sitting on the fence, like I was, you’ll find this RECOMMENDED film will enliven you with plenty of vigor for the journey.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and other formats March 19, 2013.

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