Title: The Hobbit (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis
It’s been almost a decade since I last visited J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth with The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (2003), but boy, going back to Middle Earth with The Hobbitt: An Unexpected Journey, felt like I’d never left. That familiar feeling you’ll get when you watch The Hobbitt: An Unexpected Journey comes as a direct result of having the same filmmaking team behind the cameras. Same producers, same writers and yes, same director; Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth after having directed the first Lord of the Rings trilogy, the trilogy of films that won him numerous Academy Awards and made him a house hold name. This film does have an added bonus to it though: Guillermo del Toro also helped write it and conceptualize it, so it’s got a bit of another great fantasist in it. Unfortunately, del Toro had to bow out of directorial duties, sad in a way because I would have loved to see a Lord of the Rings film directed by del Toro, but as fate would have it, Jackson retook the reins of the new trilogy, which is perfectly fine by me, the guy made the previous three, he is the most qualified for the job. So did Jackson lose any steam? Or are his directorial abilities still in tip top shape?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). It tells the story of a younger Bilbo Baggins and his first encounter with “the one ring”. But it all starts rather small, with a visit from Gandalf the sorcerer who asks Bilbo to join him on an adventure to find a gold treasure that’s hidden within the abandoned Kingdom of Erebor. But this might prove to be harder than it sounds; the treasure and the abandoned city are both zealously protected by a giant fire breathing dragon named ‘Smaug’. If Bilbo accepts to join the adventure, he will be accompanied by 13 dwarfs and Gandalf himself. Will Bilbo accept to break with his pleasurable, peaceful life in order to help the dwarves regain their long lost kingdom and destroy the fire breathing dragon that took it from them?
I love what Jackson does with these movies, he brings Tolkien’s worlds to life in a way that makes me want to live in them. Yes sir, I wouldn’t mind living in ‘the Shire’ amongst happy Hobbits planning their next party. I’d love to live in those little Hobbit cabins filled with “all the comforts of home”. I mean, I love those warm looking little huts that the Hobbits live in. It seems like the Hobbits live extremely peaceful lives, jolly most of the time, planning parties with friends, sharing warmth and good food. What’s not to like about that life? Of course, The Shire might be a beautiful, peaceful place to live in, but around it, evil lurks, searching to disrupt peace and happiness. This is part of the theme of the film, how Bilbo has to break from his comfort zone and venture out into the world. He is an unlikely, reluctant hero, but will he think of others? Will he learn empathy? It’s the age old idea that when we break out of our comfort zone, that’s when things start happening, that’s when we start living our lives, that’s when the real adventure begins.
What makes this unexpected journey so pleasurable to watch is its characters and the world they inhabit. I loved the 13 dwarves and their humor and their appetite and their singing, these dwarves are a very entertaining bunch of characters that bring the film to life. By the way this film reminded me a lot of Ron Howard’s Willow (1988) a film that borrowed heavily from Tolkien’s books; you know, the kind of film where a bunch of characters are traveling down a strange and dangerous land, filled with unexpected perils, creatures and monsters galore. Orcs, giant rock creatures, giant wolves and spiders, and monsters that defy definition await Bilbo and the dwarves as they travel through Middle Earth. This is one of the things that I always love about fantasy films, the creatures we meet on the journey across the strange land. In that sense, this film is not so different from Ridley Scott’s Legend (1985) either, or any other fantasy film for that matter. This is a monster filled journey.
As far as faithfulness to the book goes, I’d say that yeah, it’s faithful to the source material, but the filmmakers also throw in a lot of things that are not in the book because they want to tie in plot points from the previous films and bring in new plot points that will appear in future films, by the way, don’t know if you guys know it but two more films have already been filmed The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smug which will be released summer 2013 and The Hobbit: There and Back Again which will be released shortly thereafter. So this is the reason why on An Unexpected Journey, you will see characters talk about future perils and dangers on the horizon, alluding to, yet not really telling us what we can expect in future films. Some characters are introduced briefly, obviously meant to have bigger roles in future films. I read The Hobbit and felt like they took some moments, placed them in this film, switched them around and put them in the second or third, it was quite obvious that this isn’t a chronologically accurate translation of the book. The filmmaker have switched events around to suit their storytelling, and added new characters so as to have a cohesiveness with the older films. But in the world of Hollywood, this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Very rarely do filmmakers translate a book onto film word for word; poetic license is common practice in film land. So if you’re expecting a word for word adaptation of the book, wake up from that dream. But fret not, the most important key moments are all there. You will see Bilbo solve riddles with Gollum, Bilbo getting the ring for the first time, the 13 dwarves arriving at Bilbo’s home and so forth…the key moments are there. If you ask me, you won’t feel disappointed if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan.
Ultimately I enjoyed this film very much. It feels like it belongs right there with the previous films. It was realized in such a similar fashion that you do feel like you’re visiting that same Middle Earth we visited years ago with the first three films and the film is entertaining because of its cast of lively characters. The visual effects are as perfect as they could be; I am personally amazed at what these filmmakers can achieve with computer effects, when done well. The expressions they can achieve on some of these characters are astonishing; Gollum is a wonder of animation in my book, he seems so alive in the film, yet he only exists within the confines of a computer! I guess the only down side to the film is how long it is, you might feel like they are padding things out, stretching that story so as to make three movies out of one book and make three times as much money, but then again epic length is almost a pre-requisite with these Lord of the Rings films, it’s almost become something we can expect from them. So, with very few bad things to say about it I say An Unexpected Journey was a satisfying and entertaining film with visual effects and storytelling of the highest caliber, without a doubt one of the best of 2012.
Rating: 5 out of 5