Movie Review: Hobbit Tells of a Thrilling But Over-Embellished JourneyDec 18, 2012
The making of the Hobbit is a story to tell in its own right with film rights being tossed around in legal battles for years before the MGM finally obtained everything it needed to get the production moving. Sadly MGM was in a bit of a financial bind and went bankrupt which held things up for more than a couple of years. During this financial standstill, Peter Jackson was brought in to produce and was eventually moved in to direct after Guillermo del Toro had to leave because of the uncertain future of the project. Finally, the first part of the prelude to Lord of The Rings has arrived in the form of An Unexpected Journey. Has the decade long wait been worth it or is the cinematic Middle Earth best left to the history books?
An Unexpected Journey begins with a prologue that covers the history of the dwarven company before catching up with an old and frail Bilbo(Ian Holm) who begins writing his book(the one Frodo receives in the Rings trilogy). As Bilbo writes and narrates we are taken into the tale and see a much younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) who is visited by the wizard Gandalf the Grey(played again the fantastic Ian McKellen) who decides to choose Bilbo for a mysterious task. Not long after Gandalf's visit, 13 dwarves show up to meet before going on a journey to win back their kingdom and treasures from the ferocious dragon Smaug. Bilbo becomes whisked away into the journey that pits him and his companions against trolls, orcs, goblins, and even the familiar enemy of Gollum (Andy Serkis).
The first film of the Hobbit trilogy has a rough start that feels disjointed and takes its sweet time getting moving. It takes more than 45 minutes for Bilbo and gang to even begin to leave the Shire to begin their trek to the Lonely Mountain. Lord of the Rings also had notably slow pacing, but unlike its predecessors, The Hobbit's slow pacing felt sloppy, pointless, and drawn out. Once the film gets going the pacing becomes far more exciting as the troupe runs into various obstacles and enemies who do not want the dwarves to make it home.
One of the best sequences in the movie has to be the game of riddles in the dark between Bilbo and Gollum. This iconic scene from the book comes to life on the screen in a way more exciting and enthralling than I ever could have imagined. This scene works as a linchpin for the movie in many ways as Bilbo's character is brought to a point where he must decide that there is no going back for him while also demonstrating his wit which is easily his most redeeming quality as the film's main protagonist. Andy Serkis turns in his best performance as the charming yet psychotic Gollum yet. Somebody please hand the man an Oscar!
The massive cast of the movie is led by newcomer Martin Freeman who does a fantastic job as the nervous but auspicious hero Bilbo.The other standout newcomer is Richard Armitage who plays the king of the dwarven mountain, Thorin. He plays the very hopeful, but coldly weathered leader well by slowly revealing different shades of the troubled character throughout the various trials the group encounters. The returners Ian Mckellan, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, and Christopher Lee also do formidable jobs in the roles they made iconic in Lord of the Rings.
One character that is noticeably out of place with both the story and the world Peter Jackson has created is Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) who is a sort of animal loving, mushroom popping wizard. The character is written to be a little odd, but his eccentricity becomes more than a little off putting after more than a couple of minutes of screen time.
Middle Earth is just as beautiful and grande as you remember from the Rings trilogy as Jackson steps in to make every shot look absolutely stunning especially in the 3D. The road the company travels is filled with many obstacles we've all become familiar with which makes for some jaw dropping spectacle. My favorite set piece has to be when the group is climbing a mountain only to discover that they are on top of rock giants that begin attacking each other. This movie certainly does not scale back the epic scope of the trilogy despite its seemingly lower stakes.
One aesthetic choice I did take issue with is the use of CGI orcs and goblins instead of practically done make-up effects that were used in the original trilogy. This may seem like a fairly minor complaint, but unlike the make-up which never had me think twice, the CGI was constantly reminding me that I was watching a movie. It may not seem like a big deal, but it took me out of the movie regularly and defeated the more believable tone that Jackson has already proven himself capable of. I'm crossing my fingers that Jackson is not falling into the same trap George Lucas created for himself when making the Star Wars prequels.
Lastly, It is worth noting that The Hobbit was originally to be a 2 part movie that was recently extended to a trilogy because Peter Jackson and Warner Bros. claimed that there was too much material to go through. In many ways An Unexpected Journey exposes this by showing that there is actually quite a bit of fat that could be trimmed to make this a more focused and seamless experience. The first third of the movie is bogged down by more than enough pointless exposition and a prologue that includes a look at Frodo in a drawn out scene that is simply there as fan service. Whether or not the story of Tolkien's The Hobbit can be spread over three movies remains to be seen, but if An Unexpected Journey is any indication of what's to come; we are looking at a trilogy that will be drawn out as much as possible just so the studio can bring in another billion dollar movie.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fun return to Middle Earth that is damaged by a drawn out plot and some overused CGI aesthetic choices. The lead cast members turn in some excellent performances with Andy Serkis delivering his most electrifying outing as the now iconic Gollum yet. If you can overlook the shortcomings of this prelude to the classic trilogy, then you will gladly fall in love with what An Unexpected Journey has to offer.
This journey into Middle Earth may not be as great or memorable as the ones before, but once the movie gets going it is filled with an exciting adventure that will likely leave you longing for more Middle Earth.