Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy left such an impression on the world that when we think of the words "epic trilogy," LOTR immediately comes to mind, along with Star Wars Episodes 4, 5 and 6. And maybe also Jaws. Maybe. Lord of the Rings was so massive that it practically spawned a whole new breed of fantasy geeks, which is a good thing. Years passed and the franchise was all but forgotten. Nine years later, we are treated to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which, to my knowledge, was written before The Lord of the Rings.
I've never read the books, so I genuinely had no idea what to expect as far as story goes, but the bar LOTR set was pretty high. Does The Hobbit meet our expectations? Is it everything I could've ever wanted for a prequel to a trilogy that pretty much rocked throughout my college life?
I don't really know how to review a movie in the academic sense but I do know what I like. This will probably not sound very smart, but I'll give it a shot. And yes, this is an invitation to you movie critics out there who'd like to write for a geeky blog. Please do sign up and write to your hearts' content.
Plot and Presentation
Let me try to break it down for you without spoiling anything. If you've read The Hobbit, then you'll find that the story in the movie follows the book's to the letter. I actually didn't read it, but Mel, the girlfriend, has and she said it was very accurate. The Hobbit sees Mr. Baggins join a merry band of dwarves and Gandalf in an adventure to reclaim a dwarven kingdom. From what? Well, if you've never read the book, it's probably best to watch the movie to find out.
In its entirety, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey runs for 2 hours and 40 minutes. Although my seat made me very uncomfortable, I never felt that The Hobbit dragged on longer than it should have. Every scene felt relevant and important and the time devoted to each felt right. There may have been a few scenes that ran a little longer than necessary but they are few and far apart, if there were any at all.
Action scenes were abundant and they were all quite impressive. After every major action scene, they're immediately thrust into another harrowing situation, which kept the audience on its toes for the most part. Every now and again, we see the story take a break from the action to have time for plot progression and character development. They also served as nice breathers for the audience.
The main cast is over a dozen characters strong. There are 14 dwarves, a hobbit, a wizard, the main antagonist and major supporting characters. Even with almost 3 hours of movie, there simply isn't enough time to build up all the characters. The fact that they were able to make the audience care for Thorin and a few of his dwarves, namely Fili, Kili, Balin, Bofur, and Dwalin, was already quite a feat. Thorin is the arrogant and brave leader of the band of dwarves, and you will root for him by the end of the movie.
Add Gandalf and our main protagonist, Bilbo Baggins to the mix, and they've got quite a challenge on their hands, yet they were able to pull it off. Gandalf comes across as the awesomest, wisest and almost-most powerful wizard he was in LOTR. Bilbo is seen as a very clever hobbit, with a sense of courage and thirst for adventure that just merely needed to be goaded out.
Despite the great job they did on the characters, you will not likely care about them as much as you did the Fellowship members. Bilbo is a lot easier to relate to than Frodo and he's a heck of a lot funnier, too, but for some reason, he feels like he's kept at an arms' length from us.
Maybe the next two movies will fix that.
Since this was written before The Lord of the Rings, it would practically be impossible to have scenes here that don't explain some things in LOTR. In the trailer, we see Gandalf giving Bilbo his sword, Sting, which didn't have a name yet at that point. I'm not gonna ruin anything, but another sword's origin was pointed out during the same scene. LOTR fans are gonna get kick out of that.
An Unexpected Journey also explains and even explores the source of tension between the elves and the dwarves. A lot of other things may have also been exposed, but I can't recall them at the moment.
One thing that they did show was how Bilbo got the ring. If you recall, they had a similar scene in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. However, if you were expecting the exact same scene, merely retold, you'd be wrong. The Hobbit fleshed out that scene very nicely and showed how clever Bilbo can really be. I'm not sure how it went down in the books but I liked An Unexpected Journey's version better.
A lot of the cinemas will show The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 48 frames per second, labeled as 2D (that doesn't make a lick of sense). I think all the 3D screenings are at 48 fps. Unfortunately, my untrained eyes saw very little difference between this 48 fps movie and a 24 fps movie. That's all well and good if you wouldn't get charged extra for it, but you do.
I've had multiple people tell me that 48 fps paired with 3D was spectacular. They said it was less like watching a movie and more like watching a play, because it was so crisp and lifelike. I'll be sure to test that position out very soon.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, not unlike the original three LOTR movies, is a special effects extravaganza. Unlike the original LOTR trilogy, though, The Hobbit relied less on practical effects and more on CGI. Do you recall that scene in Two Towers and Return of the King, where dozens upon dozens of Orc riders rode down hills or the gigantic set pieces of Rohan? Those were for real! That said, there really wasn't anything wrong with the CG stuff. In fact, I would say they've improved a lot.
Andy Serkis, once again, knocked it out of the park as Gollum. And the guys in charge of making him outdid themselves. Gollum's face seem greatly evolved form the LOTR days, if you can believe it. This is also true for all the other creatures in the movie - the orcs, the trolls and the goblins. One little nitpick, though - the trolls looked a little "light." Like, it was too obvious they weren't really there.
Another great thing about the effects would be the size manipulation of the dwarves and Gandalf. I bet that took a while to do.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fantastic movie that is charming, funny, engaging and just incredibly impressive. Surrounded by a very rich mythology, Middle Earth feels alive through this movie. The dialogue was witty, and the story flowed very nicely. I'm not sure how they can squeeze out two more movies from one book, but for the meantime, An Unexpected Journey should be on your must-watch list.
I give it 9 out of 10.
Images are from screenrant.com.