Yup, it’s nearly three hours long. But in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will feel right at home, and newcomers, especially children will be feel in good company with the low-brow humor as long as they can sit through the creepiness and violence. The Hobbit was written as a story for young adults and should be approached with a desire that same desire to be amazed.
How did director Peter Jackson turn this slim volume by JRR Tolkien into another trilogy? By sticking to location at length, staging the heck out of them and allowing the characters to explore every crook without the promise of any terminus. And it’s terrifically watchable.
Jackson seems very confident in his ability to entertain even in these small spaces, but that doesn’t make them any less of a spectacle. The opening is a good example where Bilbo’s hobbit hole becomes a kind of time portal between his past and the present– here’s Bilbo (Ian Holm) again at his desk, Frodo (Elijah Wood) casually passes by in a smart cameo, a young Bilbo first meets Gandalf harking back to his first introduction on the Shire, and an unexpected party of dwarfs stay for dinner, tearing the house apart, only to put it back together again before Baggins’ departure. Soon you realize we haven’t stepped off the front porch. And like a party that goes on a bit long, but with good company in keep the setting, the hobbit hole, becomes as much of a character as those who inhabit it, and “that means comfort.”
But An Unexpected Journey isn’t all dwarf ballads and chamomile tea. Gollum’s cave also is another universe in itself, where Andy Serkis as the Evil One riddles with young Bilbo. Martin Freeman keeps his head somehow despite the absolute fear Gollum instills with those big blue eyes of his. Hopefully we see Freeman exercise a little muscle in the future. He’s pretty flat in this first installment, flexing more Baggins than Took in his personage.
Ian Mckellin and Christopher Lee are both on form here, without any big surprises. But it’s Wizard Radagast the Brown, played by Sylvester McCoy is a marginal character at best in the book, who is introduced is sure to be a favorite of the film. He is an absolute joy to watch and engages so well with both actor and his flock of CGI animals, providing the most immersive experience if you watch this in 3D.
The Orc King’s cameo also demonstrates the superiority of the 48fps frame rate that was used to create a more “natural” look for the animated characters. The biggest payoff though, are the eagles who appear at the end of the film. As for the backdrops, the emphasis for depth was limited. If you’re coming to see the Orc City and Erebor in all it’s 3D glory, save your extra ten bucks. That’s not to the film’s discredit. Jackson allows a city-scape to speak for itself as much as the lush locations of the Australian outback .
Some hints of what’s to come. This short novel will see two additional installments before the dwarfs return with the arkenstone from Lonely Mountain. The Necromancer and Smaug are planted in An Unexpected Journey, but they’ve yet to stand between Thorin Oakenshire’s team and their object.
I’m exited to follow these dwarfs into the next installment. Gandalf the Wise leads this band of less-than refugees, who pale in comparison to the Elvish race, and seem vulnerable to destruction by happenstance merely because of their size (see: Giants) rather than desire. They will likely to prove some of the most sympathetic characters of Jackson’s adaptation of the Tolkien canon.