Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage
After nearly a decade of anticipation, The Hobbit is finally here. At least, part of it is anyway. The good news is that the first instalment in this unexpected trilogy from Peter Jackson is a welcome return to Middle Earth and a really rather excellent fantasy adventure. The bad news is that it isn’t as good as The Lord of the Rings. At least not yet anyway.
Before I get into details know that you can breathe a sigh of relief. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is good. Very good in fact. Even if it doesn’t quite scale the same highs as Peter Jackson’s previous adventures in Middle Earth, it is a worthy addition to the franchise that builds upon its legacy without tarnishing it. The Phantom Menace it is not.
For those of you who don’t know, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a three-part film series based on J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a fantasy book he wrote for his children before he eventually penned his more well-known follow up The Lord of the Rings. Set before that later epic, The Hobbit follows a young Bilbo Baggins as he sets off, with a little encouragement from the wizard Gandalf, on a grand adventure with a band of dwarves to reclaim their old kingdom, and treasure, from the terrible dragon Smaug.
This adaptation stays true to that story but in an attempt to stretch a relatively short story (when compared to The Lord of the Rings) into a three-film epic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey draws upon some of Tolkien’s other writings on Middle Earth to flesh the story out.
What this means is that The Hobbit, at least in this first instalment, is somewhat conflicted. On the one hand it tries to tell a simple story while at the same time attempting to draw in all these peripheral elements in order to act as a grand prologue to The Lord of the Rings films. Unfortunately, while this might change in parts two and three, this leaves An Unexpected Journey feeling a little overlong, unevenly paced and patched-together. And make no mistake, this is a long film. At nearly three hours in length, at times An Unexpected Journey stretches the material to breaking point. There’s no reason why the core story of The Hobbit couldn’t have been told in two two-hour movies or even one super-lean three-hour one.
But while it may feel excessive in places and there are times when the plot wanders, The Hobbit is still a damn good movie. Gripes about decompressed storytelling aside, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a joyous return to Middle Earth packed full of wonder. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as a young Bilbo Baggins and his Dwarf companions are brought to life magnificently by the actors that play them. Two or three get the short end of the stick and have little to say or do (unsurprisingly seeing as there 13 of them) but all of the key ones are handled with great care, particularly Richard Armitage’s commanding performance as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the company.
There are plenty of familiar faces too. Gandalf plays an important role in the story, almost becoming the lead character at times, and it’s great to see Sir Ian McKellen back in the grey wizard’s shoes. There are appearances big and small from several characters from The Lord of the Rings but the undoubted highlight is Andy Serkis returning as the malevolent creature Gollum. Though the film does take a while to get going, the moment Gollum appears on screen things come to life in the most electric way and the film’s final third soars as a result.
Those of you coming into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey expecting more The Lord of the Rings may be disappointed. For one because, despite the familiar trappings of Middle Earth, The Hobbit is a lighter, more whimsical and all together different tale but also because it doesn’t quite stand shoulder to shoulder with Peter Jackson’s prior epics. But then it was never supposed too. The Hobbit was originally written long before J.R.R Tolkien had grandiose visions of The One Ring and for the simple purpose of entertaining children with a fantastical bedtime story. Adjust your expectations accordingly and it’s hard not to get carried back to Middle Earth for one more wide-eyed adventure.