The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Martin Freeman in The HobbitTitle: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Aidan Turner. Graham McTavish
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 169 minutes
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy

It seems expectations for The Hobbit were set at an unattainable level by many, setting the movie up to fail from the start. It gets an unfair shake by being overly compared to Lord of the Rings. Yeah yeah, it’s a prequel to the franchise, you say, so it should be compared. So, I’ll explain. Lord of the Rings is considered one of the best trilogies of all-time, which has only gained esteem over the years due to the devoted sentiment of its fan base. Some would even put it above the Star Wars trilogy (I’m not taking a stance there and opening up that can of worms right now). Thus, with The Hobbit coming afterwards, it is expected to be bigger and better. Held up to such fanboy standards heightened by nostalgic reverence, The Hobbit has no choice but to be a disappointment. But, if allowed to stand on its own merit, The Hobbit can be so much more.

This is one of Peter Jackson’s better touches with The Hobbit. He doesn’t set out to outdo himself and Lord of the Rings. Instead, he just sets out to bring us right back to Middle Earth, as if we never left. Marked by grand scenery, remarkable visual effects and beautiful set pieces, this is the same Middle Earth we came to love so much. Only this time, Jackson and company seek to take us on a different adventure. This time, the adventure being that of Bilbo Baggins being recruited to join Gandalf and a clan of dwarves in reclaiming the dwarves’ home. This restraint from Jackson creates a congruity which breed familiarity, allowing us to fall right back into this fantastical world without being bogged down by the symptoms of sequelitis.

Jackson does a good job of balancing this familiarity with a new adventure, allowing The Hobbit to stand on its own and not just be a rehash of the same old stuff. While the world is the same, the tone here is a bit different than we grew accustomed to in Lord of the Rings. Being more light-hearted and humorous, The Hobbit is a more jovial tale than its predecessor. This is a nice touch considering we’re now in a Middle Earth which isn’t as stricken by evil as the previous trilogy. Meanwhile, Jackson brings a more intimate connection to The Hobbit than before, providing a close-knit feel which allows us to easily fall back in with old friends but quickly embrace new friends along the way.

Ian McKellan’s Gandalf proves once again to be a solid anchor for the movie and makes for a great guide on this new adventure. Seeing familiar faces like Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis’ Gollum also helps settle us back in after having been gone for so long. Meanwhile, there are plenty of newcomers which capture our interest along the way. Most notable is the charming Martin Freeman as an affable Bilbo Baggins, bringing heart to the group. Or Richard Armitage as the dwarf Thorin who seems such a badass and has the charisma to make you want to embark on this arduous journey with him yourself. Rounding out the mix are a group of 12 other dwarves (from Bofur and Kili to Balin and Bombur) who bring a wonderful variety to this lovable group, providing color between adrenaline-inducing chases and invigorating fight scenes.

While being a wonderful adventure, The Hobbit isn’t without its faults. The pacing here is one that will surely be looked upon as the biggest flaw to Jackson’s latest outing in Middle Earth. The first act seems to drag like a lame leg, almost crippling your ability to set out on this adventure with Bilbo and friends. But once the introductions are made and the foundation is set, ending the first act, things finally pick up and you’re drawn right back in. From there, it’s a fun adventure that does a very nice job of laying the groundwork for the future of the trilogy. And while the story may meander a bit here and there, the last act is a nonstop ride of adventure and enjoyment that will seemingly make up for the tedious path taken to get to that point. This pacing does raise questions, though, of whether Jackson and company may be stretching this tale too far to make it a trilogy. But that’s something we’ll just have to wait for to see in future installments. Future installments aside, An Unexpected Journey itself could have benefited from some trimming of the fat. The movie would have been absolutely great as a 2 hour film, but at 2 hours and 50 minutes, you’ll be checking your watch a couple of times.

In the end, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does a nice job of kicking off the trilogy. It may be more of the same, but that’s not a bad thing when dealing with a property as great as this. Jackson proves once again he has a flair for bringing this fantastical world to life in a beautiful and exhilarating way. The Hobbit won’t convert any new fans, but for those of us that loved The Lord of the Rings, this is a wonderful return. It’s great being back in Middle Earth and I, for one, am eager to go there and back again with future installments of this trilogy to join Bilbo and company on this fun epic adventure.

 ★★★★ 

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  1. Dan O. says:

    It’s fun, entertaining, well-acted, and very nostalgic if you loved the old movies but also very long in how it goes through these tangents and never really settles down from it. Still, it’s an alright time to watch. Nice review Josh.

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