I am a big fan of the Lord of the Rings movies but have never even made it all the way through The Hobbit, let alone the full series of Middle Earth books so, sometimes, I feel I’m coming to these films from a different angle from many – though maybe that gives me a view on them purely as films rather than adaptations, who knows…
Anyway, first thing to say about this, the first of three Hobbit films, is how quickly it went by despite its fairly epic running time. The first chunk of the film, after the excellently done prologue that take place about half an hour before The Fellowship of the Ring, contains a lot of scenes of people sitting around talking, and even after the titular journey begins we still get scenes of long conversations as the group head to Rivendell and we meet Elrond and co. again.
While in some films these could really slow things down to such a degree as to lose the audience’s interest, here Peter Jackson’s direction of them, combined with the constantly energetic characters of the 13 dwarves, keeps all these scenes ‘moving’ and entertaining and, while I thought they might get frustrating, actually the dwarves are a real highlight of the film.
The 13 dwarves get a lot of screen time and, while some are standout members of the troop for various reasons, the introductions of them, combined with little moments throughout, make sure each of them does feel at least like they have a purpose in being there and, in terms of design, each plays on the traditional dwarf look to create a collection of great ‘little’ characters.
Characters wise of course the dwarves aren’t all there is, Ian McKellen is back as Gandalf and he looks very much like he does in Fellowship, while various other recurring characters are equally set in stone from the previous movies.
Martin Freeman though is the undeniable star of the film as Bilbo Baggins (though Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield gives him a run for his money) and really does feel like the younger version of the character played by Ian Holm as he perfectly captures the sense of the everyman thrown in out of his depth in the first part of the film and, as the film goes on and we get more into the world, and he becomes more a part of the adventure, Bilbo becomes a real flawed hero who I can’t wait to see develop into the next two movies.
The ‘big scene’ so to speak with Bilbo is his game of riddles with Gollum that sees Andy Serkis reprise his LotR role as well. While I don’t know the scene from the books the sense of danger and intrigue presented is faultless, even though we know Bilbo must escape for the Lord of the Rings story to continue, and as things develop we get a real sense of who and what Gollum is again and, whether he appears again in the next two Hobbit films or not, scenes like this and Rivendell perfectly tie together the two movie trilogies into a complete sequence.
The other thing that struck me greatly about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is quite how, like the book, it fits in as a slightly younger skewed take on the stories of Middle Earth.
I was concerned at first this might lose something for the film, but the tone balances brilliantly so we still get tension and threat, the orcs and wargs are genuinely quite scary pieces of design, but it is not the same as in the LotR films as there is, initially at first, less riding on this quest than Frodo’s.
So, if you’ve read this far, I guess you can tell that I like this movie and think it is a spot on balance of everything it needs to be, and there’s a lot more I could mention that I enjoyed besides, however as it ends it left me wondering how there were two more movies to tell the rest of the story, but I admit my faith in the team making this movie has given me hope that it should, as the title suggests, be an excellent, if unexpected, journey.