Movie review: The Hobbit
December 23, 2012
Nine years after the theatrical release of the final installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson brings us back to the Shire, back to Bilbo Baggins, and back 60 years to a more peaceful time in Middle Earth.
Using J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit as the launching place for his The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jackson carries us through the first part of the treasured novel with quite a few twists of his own.
I hadn’t paid enough attention to the marketing machine to notice that the relatively small novel had been set up as another three film franchise, but, after all, with the wild success of the first trilogy, why not make a series? Also, having read The Hobbit recently, I can see why it makes sense to break the journey into three neater pieces instead of smashing every dwarf into the background just to get through the plot.
About the tale itself: if you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings films, you are set to understand every scene and most every character introduced. If, somehow, you missed the Lord of the Rings, but read The Hobbit, you’re going to be confused by the introduction of an evil albino Orc, a strange brown wizard, and some Elvish-Dwarf drama that is not pronounced in the book. Jackson and his writing team also pour on an opening scene featuring Frodo right before his Lord of the Rings quest, a longish introduction scene that is perhaps a nod to the fans to make them feel at home.
Most of the elements added to the movie serve the purpose of setting up the ominous spread of darkness that eventually translates to the necessity for the Lord of the Rings events 60 years later. These additions dampen the lightheartedness of the Hobbit’s tale a little, but carefully timed wit by some skilled actors keep the tenor relatively bright.
Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf, who is a bit of a confusing wizard, but nice to have around when trouble strikes. Martin Freeman comes on as the young Bilbo Baggins. Freeman really brings the humor to the tale, whether facing a horde of uninvited dwarves or a tricky Gollum. Relative newcomer Richard Armitage commands the screen as Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf king whose mountain homeland was taken over by the gargantuan dragon Smaug. And yes, he can command the screen even though he is a dwarf.
On the whole, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey clearly reads as a set up for the next two movies, and it plainly incorporates the same themes present in the Lord of the Rings films. The visual effects are fantastic, and by fantastic I mean sometimes horrifically grotesque, sometimes surreally gorgeous. If you have any inclination to enjoy fantasy writing translated vividly to screen, then by all means join the masses and see The Hobbit. It is a rather nice beginning to an adventure.