Before we begin, let’s get the disclaimer out of the way. This is a review of the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and if you haven’t seen it yet and somehow managed to not know the details of a movie based on a book originally published in 1937 which has sold as many as 100 million copies, you should be forewarned that spoilers may be involved.
I won’t say that I’m a lifelong fan of The Lord of the Rings series. My first experience with them were the Ralph Bakshi animated versions of The Hobbit and Return of the King (for those who’ve seen them, you know the pain I speak of). After that, it was a long time before I even thought of them, certainly not until Peter Jackson brought out the The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, a series of movies that I find beautiful and enthralling, my personal favorite being The Two Towers.
With all that stated, I braved the crowds at the theater this week and settled back to take in the spectacle. As with the previous outings, it was a spectacular epic of technical achievement. There were sweeping landscapes, wonderful scenery, great music and special effects to take your breath away. It’s just not great.
The movie recounts the beginning (this is the first of another trilogy) of Bilbo’s adventure preceding the events of Fellowship of the Ring. Gandalf enlists the young Hobbit, living too contented a life, to aid a band of landless dwarfs reclaim their kingdom. Along the way, Bilbo faces dangers and delights, elves, orcs, goblins, and of course his first meeting with Gollum.
An Unexpected Journey has two main flaws. The first one has nothing to do with Jackson and everything to do with the studio. New Line Cinema takes a single-volume novel – which has less than 400 pages compared to The Lord of the Rings at 1,500 pages – and stretches it into three full‐length movies. As a result, the first instalment becomes a long slog of back-to‐ back chase scenes many of which should have been edited down or edited out altogether. For nearly three hours, the audience watch Bilbo Baggins and the 13 dwarves run up the mountain, down the valley and into the underground cave. The action sequences are so repetitive and dragged out that even ardent Tolkien fans will find themselves checking their watches frequently in the theater.
The movie’s second flaw is all on Jackson. Compared to any of The Lord of the Rings films, An Unexpected Journey feels, in a word, flat. The 13 dwarves, for instance, lack distinct personalities and fail to connect with the audience. Bilbo Baggins, the protagonist played by Martin Freeman, tries to be jolly and likeable but ends up being a mildly annoying Humpty‐Dumpty. It is clear that Jackson isn’t as emotionally invested in the project as he was with his previous ventures. It makes you wonder why he bothers making the series in the first place.
Notwithstanding these flaws, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is worth watching, if for no other reason than to treat yourself to a visual feast of stunning landscapes and amazing CGI. If you insist on comparing the movie to The Lord of the Rings, then you will leave the theater thinking that it’s more‐of‐the‐same. But if you judge the movie on its own merit, then you just may enjoy the light‐hearted fun a lot more. The same can be said if you decide to read The Hobbit novel after reading the darker, more serious Lord of the Rings.