The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit - An Unexpected JourneySynopsis: From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first of a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers.

Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, the character he played in “The Lord of the Rings” Trilogy, with Martin Freeman in the central role of Bilbo Baggins, and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Also reprising their roles from “The Lord of the Rings” in “The Hobbit” Trilogy are: Cate Blanchett as Galadriel; Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo; Christopher Lee as Saruman; Hugo Weaving as Elrond; Elijah Wood as Frodo; and Andy Serkis as Gollum.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 7.5

eyelights: Martin Freeman. Ian McKellen. Andy Serkis.
eyesores: the cgi. the aimless beginning. the ceaseless action sequences.

Seriously, I didn’t want to see ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’.  While I loved the original ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy, and have the utmost faith in Peter Jackson’s ability to deliver, I simply didn’t want to have to watch the film in three parts over the course of the next two years. Just give me the whole thing in one go. Heck, I can wait for the boxed set if I have to.

Furthermore, my enthusiasm for the series was further dampened by the fact that Jackson cynically stretched the film into a trilogy, knowing that there is a market for it. Granted, he probably was prompted quite severely by studio heads, but it totally reeks of exploitation and I hate the thought of it. I can handle the extended editions being released at later dates (as they did with the original films), but going from two to three films super late in the game stunk.

Being only a moderate fan of the series probably didn’t help: I haven’t read any of the books, and have only seen the other films in their totality once each. Unlike many others, I didn’t watch them in cinemas, then watched them on DVD, then watched the extended editions. They were really awesome films, and I found that the series only got better as it went along, but I was very happy to get through them in moderation.

I’m also not one of those people who feels the need to be at a movie or play on opening night. It doesn’t change anything. So long as you see it, whoopteedoo if you see it the moment it’s out or not. Granted, there was a time when seeing a motion picture was an event: they were rolled out gradually across the country and you had to see when you had the chance – it was a limited-time engagement and there was no home video to speak of. But, in the digital age, it’s no longer that way.

All this to say that, unlike some people, I really didn’t feel the need to see this film. I could have waited. But my partner prodded me to go, and I wasn’t exactly against the idea, so we did. (The fact that she had suffered through ‘Skyfall‘ probably also helped to soften my stance somewhat)

I can’t say that I regretted going to see ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, but I can’t say that I revelled in the experience either. It was good, but relatively forgettable. It was, by far, the least interesting or exciting of the four movies to date.

The tone didn’t help: the first part of the film was so pointless and meandering that I just couldn’t get into it. And yet I was ready for it: I already had read accounts that it was a more comedic film that the last three (well, that’s not hard to beat!), so I had adjusted my expectations accordingly – but I nonetheless found it too silly to be taken seriously.

If only something was going on, that would have been fine with me.

Except that all that was happening in that first part was Bilbo reminiscing and then Bilbo’s home being invaded by a band of rude dwarves. These dwarves tossed dishes around, rampaged through Bilbo’s home, and there was no explanation for it at all – either to us or to him. We just had to sit there and, presumably, laugh at the dwarves’ antics – which, truth be told, I found annoying, if not downright frustrating. And most certainly not funny.

It didn’t help that none of the dwarves had any redeeming qualities whatsoever – all were equally bland and/or unlikeable. This would prove to be an issue throughout the film because it also turns out that this is the band of “merry men” that we are saddled with for the whole adventure. Unlike the previous films, which had a variety of races and character types, in ‘The Hobbit’ we only get the one flavour: bland dwarf. Even their leader Thorin lacks personality and magnetism.

So, if not for Martin Freeman, who plays Bilbo for most of the picture (Ian Holm plays the aged Bilbo), it would have been one heck of a flat movie. I mean, you can throw as many action scenes as you want at me (and Lord knows that this picture tries its best to overstimulate you!), but if I don’t give a hoot about any of the characters, then it’s a total bust. I’m not going to give a crap about the outcome of any peril or any fight if the characters are two-dimensional pieces of cardboard.

Martin Freeman, thankfully, is equally able to make you laugh, as to make you sympathize with him, as to make you feel his terror, …etc. He is a very versatile actor, and I was quite pleased when he was announced as the lead for this series of films. His background in comedy obviously helps with this one, given its penchant for lighter fare, but he’s also practiced at playing comedy relatively straight, so this worked exceptionally well here – he turned Bilbo into someone real, not a cartoon.

It was also nice for Ian McKellan to return as Gandalf. He’s the next highlight of the film. I can’t say that I enjoyed him as much as I did in the previous series, but he gave Gandalf a personality, which was a much-needed element here. There’s also brief cameos by Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving, which was fun, even if it was wholly one-note and bizarrely unmoving. I can’t figure that out – they’re all such great actors, but they were unaffecting here.

And then there’s Andy Serkis as Gollum, who steals the movie pretty much by his lonesome. While I love Martin Freeman, the standout sequence in the whole movie is the one with Gollum – and all they do is talk. Sirkus managed to give life to what is ostensibly an animated skin: even though the character doesn’t look entirely realistic, Sirkis makes him move and emote realistically. And that’s enough to make the scenes work. It’s a brilliant performance.

But, ultimately, one scene is not enough to sustain a three-hour movie. THREE hours! Most of it consists of running about and fighting one battle after the next, as the dwarves, accompanied by Bilbo, try to make their way to the Lonely Mountain. I could have done with more character development and less eye candy, quite frankly, because it all felt so emotionally vacant.

Still, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ is hardly a bad film. It’s just that it pales in comparison to the originals. It’s not as jarring a ‘The Phantom Menace’ was to the original Star Wars trilogy, but it’s nonetheless a lesser picture. I truly hope that the rest of the series will improve as we go along, just as ‘The Lord of the Rings’ did. In that case, it will be a journey well worth taking.

Date of viewing: December 29, 2012

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