The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey that took absolutely nobody by surprise
Yup. The whole world's been looking forward to and expecting The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And that's just the first slight inconsistency about it.
Not that I'm seriously complaining. Peter Jackson did a great job with the Lord of the Rings trilogy (see my earlier hub) and I think he's done a fine job here, but it's neither quite what I wanted, nor how I would have done it. But it's also not nearly as bad as I had feared it could be.
I know that doesn't sound like high praise, but let's get into the review and I'll explain in more detail.
But first, the story
The movie starts in a way similar to The Lord of the Rings: with a history lesson and voice-over narration. Bilbo (Ian Holm) is writing down the story of how the dwarfs' lost kingdom of Erebor at the Lonely Mountain. Long ago, the dragon Smaug was lured to the massive dwarf treasure amassed there in a giant entrapment scheme gone wrong.
We find out that this story is being written on the same day as Bilbo's eleventy first birthday party from The Fellowship of the Ring. And just before Frodo (Elijah Wood) runs off to await the arrival of one grey wizard, Bilbo starts writing the first line of The Hobbit.
Yup. Apparently Bilbo writes all of The Hobbit the day he leaves the Shire.
Anyway, we flash back 60 years to when Bilbo (now Martin Freeman) first encounters his destiny.
Gandalf (Ian McKellen) shows up at his door and brings with him—by and by—thirteen dwarfs lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). They need a fourteenth member of their party and are hoping Bilbo would join as their master burglar, a job for which Bilbo is eminently suited for by virtue of the fact that he's never done it before in his life.
It takes a good while, but Bilbo is finally lured into taking an adventure that could get him killed or, even worse, late for supper.
They meet trolls that try to eat them. They're chased by a group of warg riders. They're captured by goblins.
And we have the most deadly game of riddles you could ever hope to play.
If you're familiar with the story of The Hobbit, this one ends just after the group has been dropped off by the eagles. If you're not familiar with the story, there are eagles in the movie.
Check out the previous movies
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Trailer
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I'm hesitant to get specific about much of the story for the simple fact that the nature of The Hobbit makes it much more a series of little adventures than just one story, and that would take quite a bit of explaining to cover each one. Yes, there's an overarching story line, but it's best you enjoy each adventure as they come.
But one thing that I wasn't sure of until I saw this movie was whether or not to call it a prequel. Yes, it comes before the LOTR trilogy, but it's based on a book that came before everything else set in this world. Rather than a prequel, shouldn't we simply call it the origin to which The Lord of the Rings is a sequel that couldn't wait its turn?
After seeing it, however, I'd have to agree that, from a movie standpoint, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is definitely a prequel to the earlier trilogy. You can definitely see plenty of The Lord of the Rings present in this film. It's not necessarily bad, but it's more than I would have done.
For instance, when Gandalf brings the company of dwarfs to Rivendell it's natural to show Elrond (Hugo Weaving). But there's a scene where Gandalf and Elrond consort with Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). The scene isn't extremely long, but it mostly serves to hint very strongly at the rise of Sauron. And if you've watched the other movies, you kinda already know that Sauron does indeed rise.
Oh, and for those who felt Radagast the Brown got a raw deal being cut from the earlier trilogy entirely, he has, for good or bad, been placed here with a vengeance (played by Sylvester McCoy).
Also, they've taken several bits from the Silmarilian and inserted them here to add even more history to the world. Not really necessary, but what they did do was well done.
What I was hoping for was a movie that just let the original source material come through. The Hobbit is to The Lord of the Rings what The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A light and fun book that is used to build toward a much more mature and heavier story.
Yet, when people make movie versions of Tom Sawyer, they really don't try to force much of Huckleberry Finn into the story. (The book, not the character. The character's all over in the story.) They let Tom's story remain as it is in the book.
And with all the stuff they've added to the story, it's no wonder they felt the need to split the movie. I could have seen maaaayyybe splitting it into two films, if you wanted to give each individual adventure a serious shake, but after adding everything in that they did, I can see where they're coming from.
Personally, however, I could have done without much of it. Heck, it takes a good 30 to 40 minutes for them to finally leave the Shire. We know going in that Bilbo's going to say yes. Could we just get going to the new stuff?
Are you seriously just going to complain?
But as much as I may express my dissatisfaction about putting too much Lord of the Rings into The Hobbit, it's clear that the film makers were aware of the difference in the story.
There really is a much lighter film technique present for much of the film. There's still a whole lot of grand sweeping camera moves across the plains of New Zeaddle Earth and plenty of meaningful and deep conversations where people seem allergic to eye contact. However Just look at the dwarfs.
We don't see a lot of dwarfs in The Lord of the Rings, but we're left with the impression that all of them were apparently cloned from John Rhys-Davies. This time, while you may not be able to remember which of the thirteen dwarfs goes with each name, you can nevertheless tell them all apart quite easily by looking at them. And they're a bit more Happy-Bashful-Doc than merely copies of Gimli and the other two dwarfs at the council in Rivendell. (One of which, by the way, is supposed to be Gimli's father, Glóin, who is in Thorin's party of thirteen. Just a little trivia that nobody asked for.)
And the fight sequences show a changed sensibility as well. Some of them still are a bit overlong, but there is a more lighthearted attitude toward some of the fighting moves and filming. You may actually laugh at certain points during the fight in the goblins' keep. I know I did.
In the end, as I said earlier, it's not quite what I wanted, but it could have been so much worse.
But what do you think?
However it's likely that my un-met desires are hurting it a bit in my final rating of 7 / 10. It's still good fun and a well-made movie. But if your expectations are more in line with what they've made here, you should be extremely satisfied.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13 for plenty of fantasy action violence, frightening images, and one scene of a troll blowing its nose that almost made me wet myself.