The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by: Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens
Starring: Ian McKellen, Ken Stott, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY: in cinemas now
RUNNING TIME: 169 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
An era of prosperity for the Dwarves who live inside the Lonely Mountain is cut short when a dragon named Smaug appears and drives King Thror and his people out of the land of Erebor, becoming the sole owner of all the treasure the Dwarves had mined including the extremely valuable Arkenstone. Sometime later, in the peaceful land of Hobbiton, a young Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins is tricked by the wizard Gandalf the Grey into hosting a party for twelve Dwarves. They intend to reclaim their kingdom from Smaug, and when Gandalf unveils a map showing a secret door in the side of the Lonely Mountain, it becomes apparent that they want Bilbo to serve as a expedition’s ‘burglar’. After much resistance, Bilbo joins them and the adventure is on, an adventure which takes Bilbo out of Hobbiton for the first time in his life……
I am a huge fan of Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings films; I think they are both excellent adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale and fantastic fantasy epics in their own right, simply amazing film experiences which I always look forward to viewing again. I’m not going to take up any more of this review singing their praises; I did that in the Feature that you can access here https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2012/12/doc-goes-back-to-middle-earth-a-personal-look-back-at-the-lord-of-the-rings-trilogy/ , so check it out if you think I have it ‘in’ for Jackson and The Hobbit. This review is not going to be a pleasant one to write though, because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just isn’t that good. It’s by no means a bad movie; there have been dozens of far worse films in what has been a pretty weak year for cinema, and it isn’t an ordeal to sit through like, for instance, the equally hyped Prometheus. There’s no getting away from it though; the film is a major letdown, a film that is partly misconceived, partly pointless and very awkward. It’s also majorly lacking in great moments which were a constant in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.
Tolkien of course wrote The Hobbit before The Lord Of The Rings. My personal introduction to Middle-Earth, it’s a truly charming page-turner, specifically aimed at kids but something that I think can be enjoyed by almost anyone. There has been much fuss made about the fact that Jackson and his co-writers have elected to expand this book into three films, and as far as I’m concerned, the fuss is totally justified. The Lord Of The Rings is three films. The Hobbit is one. My heart sank on the day I first heard that they were going to make three films of The Hobbit, and my fears have proved to be totally founded. It seems that Jackson, a guy I’ve always liked, whose films I’ve always enjoyed even from the days of Bad Taste, and whose last two efforts King Kong and The Lovely Bones I constantly defended from criticism, has finally capitulated to the lures of self-indulgence and money, even if he seems to be so constantly busy that I doubt he has much time to spend much of his cash. He’s turned a lively, funny romp into a bloated, forced, would-be epic. I wouldn’t have thought many fans of the book will want to see its first third played out at half speed, with many sequences elongated beyond reason and most of its charm eradicated, but nor would I have thought fans of The Lord Of The Rings film trilogy would want to see the same all over again but smaller-scale, a kind of pale shadow of its fore bearer.
The opening is unnecessarily convoluted. Bilbo narrates the set-up to the quest that will take place, with Smaug attacking the Dwarves. Obviously it was done like this because The Fellowship Of The Ring began with a lengthy preamble, but doing the opening of The Hobbit the same way only serves to emphasise how small-scale it is by comparison. Anyway, after this we cut to what could have been a deleted scene from the early part of The Fellowship Of The Ring, involving the elderly Bilbo and Frodo. Then, we shift to Bilbo on his own and go back into the Smaug story as he thinks about it. After such a clumsy beginning you would think the film can only get better but it takes a while to do that with a pretty dull first quarter. The beautifully done build-up of The Fellowship Of The Ring was justified in its length because things were still constantly happening, but it’s not really the case here when all we have is a load of Dwarves being totally irritating even though we are undoubtedly supposed to find them lovable and charming.
When the adventure eventually begins the film does certainly pick up, and while it botches some of Tolkien’s best scenes like the encounter with some Trolls, the incidents keep on coming and the final hour is certainly full of action. Bilbo’s famous encounter with Gollum is superbly done. Gollum looks even better than before, the tension is terrific and it certainly justifies the amount of time spent on it. I wouldn’t say the film’s tone is that much lighter than The Lord Of The Rings though, though I might be saying that because much of the supposed humour just isn’t very funny. The sweeping shots of New Zealand are as breathtaking as ever and the somewhat brighter look of this film is appropriate because this is supposedly a more innocent, innocuous story [or would be if filmed right]. The detail is often very clever; notice, for instance, the contrast between the Rivendell of this film and the more autumnal Rivendell of the earlier films, though Jackson’s habit for making supposedly dark interiors overly bright reaches absurd depths here. The special effects vary wildly in quality, including some CG rabbits which are astoundingly bad and which I couldn’t believe were actually considered okay.
There is still a lot to enjoy and appreciate though, and some children may find it easier to process than The Lord Of The Rings. Unfortunately, the whole film suffers from what seems to be Jackson’s excuse for making three films of this book; his inclusion of back story virtually divorced from the main tale which he took from Tolkien’s appendices. This stuff is basically material that leads into The Lord Of The Rings, but it both jars with the main story both tonally and narratively and is actually pretty pointless. The naturist Wizard Radagast, played by the worst Dr Who as hammy as can be, may be an interesting character, albeit one who tried my patience after about a minute, but the rest is pretty boring, because we all know what is basically happening and the nudge-nudge wink-wink references to things to come [“O look , there’s Galadriel. O look, isn’t that…..”?] are irritating. They made a serious mistake in doing The Hobbit this way. What with the more artificial look to many scenes caused by the resorting to increased CGI this time round, I couldn’t help thinking certain comparisons made to The Phantom Menace were not entirely unjustified.
Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo, the ultimate reluctant adventurer who leaves the peace and quiet of his life into a dangerous world he would never have even dreamed of. Sadly only three of the Dwarves are given much to say and do and after a while it’s hard to tell some of them apart. Snow White would have been ashamed. Howard Shore’s music score gives mostly appropriate backing but has only one good new theme and most of the score’s best bits reuse motifs and themes from his earlier trips to Middle-Earth. It contains one bizarrely misjudged musical passage when we hear his The Lord Of The Rings Nazgul theme as Thorin strides towards an opponent. Some songs from the book do make a welcome appearance. Now I didn’t see this at 48 fps because quite simply the film wasn’t showing in that format near me. In a few days time this website’s very own David Gillespie will be offering his own views on the movie and what the 48 fps is like. I did though see the 24 fps in 3D; it was a mistake as I try to avoid The Big Con as much as possible. My verdict: what was the point? Jackson mostly goes for unobtrusiveness in the 3D, which never makes much sense to me as this devious money-making ploy is purely a gimmick that is nowhere near perfected yet, and therefore is only really justifiable as a gimmick. Considering some of his early work, you would have thought Jackson would have had some fun with the format.
This review has been more negative than positive, and yet The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is by no means all bad and is still a reasonably enjoyable way to escape from this world for 169 mins. That should explain why I have still given it an above-average rating. Unfortunately, it follows what I seriously believe is the greatest film trilogy of all time and is such a major drop in quality that I cannot help but say that Jackson has partially, if not entirely, blown it. I would like him to see sense and finish The Hobbit off in one film rather than two, but that’s not going to happen now, is it? My overall feeling about this movie can be summed up thus: when The Fellowship Of The Ring ended I wanted to see the second film there and then and the excitement became unbearable as the release date grew nearer and nearer, but as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey finished: well, I’m not going to go as far to say I couldn’t care less, but I’m certainly not thrilled that it’s going to continue in a year’s time, and I very much doubt I’ll be counting the days. Oh dear.
Check out David Gillespie’s more positive review here: https://horrorcultfilms.co.uk/2012/12/the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-2012-an-alternative-view/