Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected JourneyPosted: January 8, 2013
I’ll admit I went into this movie with a bad feeling. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings movies although I’ve always been aware that it wasn’t to the same extent as a lot of other people and rewatching the movies over Christmas kind of reminded me that while I like them I still have problems with the flicks.
The reason I was apprehensive over this movie was because unlike LotR I’ve actually read The Hobbit and while it was a good few years ago I definitely remember that it was a fairly short book so the fact it has been split into three movies of around 3 hours in length suggested that either (a) it was going to be long and boring or (b) Peter Jackson/the producers were really desperate to milk as much cash out of their fanbase as possible. Either way, it didn’t inspire confidence.
Still, it’s a big event movie and I figured it’s probably worth catching it on the big screen if you can, so I checked it out today.
I was pleasantly surprised.
As I said, it’s been years since I read the book but the film keeps fairly close to the general plot with fussy, pampered hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) being recruited to join a quest a bunch of dwarves are mounting to retake their lost city, kill a dragon and get their gold back. Bilbo is chosen for the task by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who convinces the group’s reluctant leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage) to let the hobbit join them.
Wizard, hobbit and the 13 dwarves set out but along the way must deal with orcs, trolls and Bilbo engages in a contest of riddles with a mysterious creature called Gollum (Andy Serkis) who’s magic ring he steals.
Meanwhile, the orc hunting them appears to have a personal grudge against Thorin and there’s a suspicion that others might be after the gold that lies hidden in the mountain. Also there are omens that a dark power is rising, something which Gandalf fears but which his fellow wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) is dismissive of.
I said fairly closely to the book because as far as I can remember all the stuff about the dark power has been added in, possibly to make it tie in with the Lord of the Rings movies more but also to include the interminable appendices Tolkien added to his books. It does mean that familiar faces from the LotR trilogy turn up here- not just Christopher Lee but also Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as the elves Elrond and Galadriel. Elijah Wood appears in the prologue as Frodo along with Ian Holm playing the older Bilbo as he sits down to write his memoirs.
Jackson does seem to have made other changes and seems to have added far more fizz to proceedings than I remember, it may start off slow but once things get going it’s almost a chase movie for much of the film with the company fighting and fleeing orcs and fighting their way out of an orc infested mine. The action sequences are amazing as in the previous films and again Jackson gets the spectacle right, with New Zealand looking beautiful again as it doubles for Middle Earth.
The tone may mimic LotR at times, and the same music is used, but The Hobbit was always a simpler, more kid-friendly read and the movie reflects this, being far more light-hearted and jokey than the previous films, there are dark elements and plenty of fight scenes, but for the most part it’s rather quaint and sweet. There are moments where the burping jokes and slapstick elements grate slightly, but Jackson should be applauded for making a 3 hour movie that kids can probably sit comfortably through.
One of the best tools he has in making this movie a success is his leading man. Martin Freeman is a reliable performer and yet again he delivers a wonderfully amusing and human performance, making the film his own and being the best thing in this flick.
Bilbo always runs the risks of being pompous or whiny, but Freeman does a good job in making him sympathetic. He nails the comedy and also captures the fact that as predicted by Gandalf, Bilbo does want adventures, with excitement and courage slowly starting to grow inside him. Freeman’s exasperated reactions to the scrapes Bilbo finds himself are endlessly entertaining and he’s a far more engaging hero than Wood’s Frodo was.
Also his confrontation with Gollum which comes near the end of the film is one of the standout scenes of the movie and shows the character’s cleverness, resourcefulness and compassion, three good characteristics for a character to have.
The second best performance in the movie is McKellen reprising the role of Gandalf. It’s the Grey incarnation of the character so there’s this lovably eccentric and bumbling side to the character which sadly he loses when he becomes Gandalf the White in the later films and becomes annoyingly self righteous and straight-laced.
Here he messes around and seems to get genuine joy from the antics of the dwarves and Bilbo coming out of his shell. McKellen never lets the character be too soft though and subtly implies that Gandalf, for all his warmth and easy going charm is still a powerful dude and not to be trifled with, kind of like a kindly grandfather who you later find out was a badass soldier during a war.
One of the film’s most emotional scenes is when he explains why he chose Bilbo to join them and explains his outlook on the world and coming events, showing that despite his experience and fears he’s still an optimist and it’s the same idea that drives both of Tolkien’s major works, the small characters changing the course of events:
Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay… small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? That’s because I am afraid and it gives me courage.
The film is not perfect and one of the problems comes from the dwarves. With 13 in the film some are bound to get short shrift but it’s astonishing how many of them merge into one dwarf. The only one that’s developed a bit is their leader, Thorin who’s given real gravitas and an aura of toughness by Armitage, and has a believable bitterness within him.
A handful of others do stand out, but given their similar names became simplified down to characteristics, kind of like the dwarves in Snow White. There’s old and kindly dwarf, bald and tough dwarf, likable James Nesbitt dwarf, fat and stupid dwarf, good looking bloke from Being Human dwarf and dwarf who can’t talk.
All 12 do the best with what they’ve got and you like them as a group, but they’re not really that engaging on their own and I fear that if some of them get bumped off in the following movies (I can’t remember if all 13 make it through the book) I’ll find it hard to give a damn, unless it’s James Nesbitt or the bloke from Being Human, who plays one of the younger, goofier dwarfs and makes the character likable and entertaining.
The other problem the film has is that it suffers in comparison to LotR in some ways, notably there’s not such an epic nature to the story and while the lighter moments make it a sweet, enjoyable films there are moments when it veers dangerously close to Disney-style tweeness.
But Jackson should be applauded for making a 3 hour movie that doesn’t really feel that long and for justifying his decision to stretch out the movie as there were only a few minor parts that I could see might have been cut here.
Verdict: Jackson succeeds in creating an enjoyable and engaging fantasy adventure film, helped by strong performances from Freeman and McKellen and a wise decision to play up the story’s action elements. A sweet and rather charming family adventure. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.