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REVIEW: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (2012)


After many frustrating months of the internet abuzz with talk of to ‘48fps’ or not to ‘48fps’ we’re able to finally see if the feverishly anticipated opening stanza of the precursor to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (HAUJ).

The mighty Dwarvish stronghold at the base of the Misty Mountain has been invaded by the vicious and unforgiving Dragon Smaug, driving the Dwarves from their ancestral home. When a band of Dwarves led by Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage) begin a quest to vanquish the fire breathing menace from its occupation they enlist the help of Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellan) and a Hobbit (Martin Freeman).

Filmmaker Peter Jackson’s epic visual brush strokes are back and New Zealand’s sublime natural beauty is once again on show. Seeing the sun drenched rolling hills of Hobbiton is like a cinematic opiate. This is an expansive exploratory effort with the bounds of the aesthetic he forged in the last trilogy. Despite the fantastical elements, Jackson anchors the cast to the emotional core of the work and once again extracts very good performances. There’s an early highlight in how Jackson seamlessly transforms Tolkien’s written tunes into a sombre ballad, loaded with the struggle that’s to follow.

The Hobbit is deceptively named. Instead of three films that are unnecessarily stretching the notably small novel, screenwriters Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Guillermo Del Toro have used Tolkien’s vast repositories of ancillary stories that flesh out Middle Earth’s history prior to Fellowship and stitched them into the world’s most iconic literary prequel.  As we inhabit Bilbo’s outsider perspective, there’s a notable detachment from his Dwarvish companions. This is in stark contrast to The Fellowship of the Ring’s …well fellowship. The core hobbits (Frodo [Elijah Wood], Sam [Sean ‘Rudy’ Astin], Merry and Pippin) under the fond gaze of Gandalf, and fierce protection of Aragorn (Vigo Mortenson) have a flourishing relationship and we get to know the characters deeply. In HAUJ the sheltered, diminutive quest group is in awe of the towering world around them. The beauty of Rivendell, the quaint quiet of Hobbiton, and the storm giants hurling hill sized boulders at each other – it’s only once they enter the labyrinthine cave systems the characters growth in stature and personality.  While there are some momentary lapses into the laborious where the story feels as if it’s laying the foundations of the two following films; the running time all but flies by.

McKellan effortlessly cloaks himself in Gandalf the Grey once again; he’s got the gravitas to elevate the material and to set a performance standard for those new to the franchise. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is a much more stubborn loner and generally subdued hobbit than his nephew. He’s struggling to understand his role in this quest, and he gives enough of a nod toward his future self that you feel the character’s in great hands. And the visually luscious offering that will leave you speechless is the meeting between Bilbo (Freeman) and Gollum (motion captured performance by Andy Serkis). Witnessing technological leaps even in the last decade during their ‘game of riddles’ is a highlight of the film. Serkis’ performance is unbelievably vivid. The WETA graphic artists create a disconcerting level of detail in every tick and miniscule facial gesture beats its own personal best set in the previous trilogy.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had me with the dulcet melancholy of displaced Dwarves, yearning to be home. It’s with an abiding love for the complete works of J.R.R Tolkien that Jackson (and his collaborators) assembles the disparate pieces of his legacy into the beginning of another grand arc. When asked ‘why a Hobbit (Bilbo Baggins)?’ Gandalf answers, “because he gives me courage.” I concur. 


Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here.


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4 thoughts on “REVIEW: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey (2012)

  1. CD Jorg

    I have mixed feelings. I was really looking forward to this movie. And it did a lot of things right. It also did a lot of things wrong.

    While the technical execution of this movie was just as good as the LotR trilogy, this one lacked the character growth that so characterized the other. In the original, all four Hobbits wound up as different people than they started. Pippin started as a laughingstock, a walking disaster. Merry wasn’t far behind. But when at the end they were first to follow Aragorn in charging an overwhelming army of orcs, my heart just soared. Sam was a timid gardener who demonstrated rising courage and loyalty throughout the movie. Frodo’s lighthearted laughter at the beginning quickly gave way to soberness and determination, and he was forever changed from the blade he took on Weathertop. It eventually forced him to leave Middle Earth, even after they had won.

    In short, that trilogy was epic, from every facet imaginable. The acting. The CGI. The story. The characters. The music. The setting. Everything.

    By comparison this movie was disappointing. The music was still good, although much of it was re-used from the original. I especially loved the contemplative song near the beginning from the dwarves. It had power and depth, and their bass voices were magical.

    Martin Freeman does a good job of acting, but I couldn’t get over just how old Gandalf looked. Yes, it’s been 10 years since the trilogy, so Ian McKellan’s going to show it, but in the story, it’s 50 years earlier. Thorin the Dwarf seemed rather lacking to me as a strong imposing leader. Maybe it was his baby face.

    The action scenes just fell flat for me. They were the greatest disappointment. In the trilogy, one could feel the desperation. Even though I had read the books, I felt at any moment that any of them could die. It was through sheer effort and determination, with a healthy dose of good fortune, that they were able to live another day. And in fact, not all of them did. Those that survived had wounds to show for it.

    By contrast, this movie was ridiculously comical in its battle scenes. I felt like I was watching a Stormtrooper Extravaganza. After about the 50th goblin got disembowelled, without even so much as scoring a scratch on 13 overwhelmed, surrounded, yet whimsical dwarves, I began to feel like it wasn’t so much a fight to stay alive, as it was the Harlem Globetrotters running up the score.

    Radagast the Brown as a huge disappointment. In the books, he’s respectable. He’s somewhat fearsome, and just a little bit mysterious. In the movie, which by the way he was on-screen way too much, he was nothing more than an absent-minded professor. He was wrong in every way that he could have been wrong.

    Perhaps the reason I’m so disappointed, was because I expected so much. I expected Peter Jackson to pull off another spectacular win. If I’m fair, I can admit the movie was average. I give it three stars.

  2. Pedro

    CD Jorg –

    I think you are comparing the achievements of this one film to that of all three of the LOTR films combined (over 10 hours), which isn’t really fair.

    If you take yourself back to your first viewing of the Fellowship of the Ring (when you would have had no idea what Two Towers and Return of the King held in store) can you really recall that much in the way of character growth? As I recall, people were generally impressed by the epic nature of the Fellowship but slightly bemused too, not least because it just seemed to “stop” without any natural closure. Pip and Merry’s characters were not really developed (“I think I’ve broken something”), Gandalf had exited mid-way through and Legolas/Gimli had barely spoken. Correct me if I’m wrong, but people only seemed to get properly excited about the LOTR films when the Two Towers came out.

    I’m glad that The Hobbit lingered for a bit longer in the Shire this time, because as with LOTR it is these scenes that will “root” the characters as the level of peril ramps up (as it will with this trilogy). Without wanting to spoil the story for anyone, it is worth noting that the ending of The Hobbit is a good deal more tragic than LOTR. While the critics have dismissed this as a jaunty children’s story, I suspect that the trilogy will turn out to be consierably darker than LOTR.

    I also think this first film did a good job of establishing some different, more interesting themes to those of LOTR, primarily the dwarves’ lack of acceprance of Bilbo – contrast this with the almost unconditional love shown by eveyone to Frodo – so I predict his character arc will be considerably more compelling than Frodo’s increasingly tiresome whinging and that odd relationship he had with Sam (“don’t go where I can’t follow”)

    Critics should absolutely not have objected to the length of the film. Had this been the type of 2 hour breezy film which they seem to be insisting was required, we would have ended up with another Golden Compass: a film which somehow managed to include that “happened” in the source material, while completely failing to capture any of the elements which made it charming or memorable.

    P.S. Must admit I wasn’t that keen on 48 fps, but saw it again in 24 fps (2D) and much preferred it. Given that no-one is forced to watch it in 48fps (quite the opposite), it’s strange that critics (e.g Peter Bradshaw) were so fixated with this issue.

  3. HobbitFanDisappointed

    The Hobbit should have been made into one movie, not a trilogy, and should have remained faithful to the book. Period.

    In the book, the scene between Bilbo and Gollum happens almost immediately, at the beginning of the book: the first page of chapter 5 is where it begins.

    I do not approve of the ridiculous way Peter Jackson has chosen to rewrite the Hobbit! Of all things, this is a book, a great classic, that did not need to be rewritten in order to be great.

    One great movie was all we needed, Peter.

  4. Clemen Si

    I also was pleased and surprised at the problem of not having a home which Jackson presents through Bilbo’s alliance (if I can call it that) with Thorin’s company. It’s good to see a film or anything in general choose to be expansive, lush, and difficult but fun to read instead of choose just to say ‘here’s what happened.’

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