The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first part of a trilogy chronicling the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and 13 dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield and Gandalf the Grey, who are on a quest to reclaim Erebor, one of the last great Dwarven kingdoms, from the dragon, Smaug.
Director Peter Jackson (and the studio/s, presumably) decided earlier this year that The Hobbit would not be just two movies as planned, but three. This, I thought, was a horrible idea. The book it is based on, The Hobbit, is the light-hearted (and much shorter) prelude to The Lord of the Rings. The brevity and lightness of The Hobbit means it simply can’t be split into three movies without adding lots of unnecessary plot points.
Sure enough, there was plenty of that. Some of it somewhat necessary, some really not.
There is a prologue in which the history of the dwarvish kingdom of Erebor is explained – I think that was a good choice and well done. The dwarves’ singing in Bag End was really pointless. Yes, the songs are in the book. But that doesn’t mean they help the movie. Azog the orc chieftain has a totally expanded and new storyline here and takes up a good deal of screentime in the film – he’s not even supposed to be alive in The Hobbit! – but I’m not yet certain if this will prove a good choice or not later. Elrond is given slightly more to do and say, and Galadriel and Saruman make appearances too. Appearances that are probably quite needless (though I did really admire Galadriel’s dress and would love to wear it. haha). Radagast the Brown gets quite a bit to do in the middle, but I can see the potential usefulness in having someone discover the growing darkness in the Greenwood and introduce that into the story. He also has a little sled pulled by awesome rabbits from Rhosgobel. Rabbits that can outrun wargs. Can I have one? (Radagast and rabbits are not in the book either.)
It is difficult to judge most of the additions at this time because there are two more movies to go and we don’t know how Peter Jackson and his team have put the story together. I think only the dwarvish musical bits are the outright unnecessary parts. The rest are dubious, but just possibly not so bad in the end – we’ll have to see how the other two movies turn out.
The story didn’t drag as badly as I imagined it would, despite the over-reliance on battle scenes and chase sequences to drive the pace. However, I think it really didn’t need to be nearly three hours long. Cut it into half and it would have been just right.
Martin Freeman does well as Bilbo, and Andy Serkis makes a magnificent Gollum (again). The “Riddles in the Dark” scene between Bilbo and Gollum has to be one of the best sequences in this film, with Gollum’s bipolar tendencies being displayed through effective application of dialogue and acting. I marveled at how Hugo Weaving actually looked younger than he did in LOTR – kudos to the makeup team. The dwarves seem generally well-cast and Sylvester McCoy was a charming and rather endearing Radagast.
(I honestly revelled in seeing Rivendell on screen again, and hearing Elvish spoken once more. That part was absolutely delightful to me.)
Many critic reviews have complained about the new frame rate (48fps) but I didn’t have any trouble watching the movie. Then again, I strongly suspect it was shown at the regular 24fps frame rate here. I doubt our cinemas – or many cinemas elsewhere – are fully equipped to screen movies at higher frame rates.
I chose to watch it in digital 2D instead of 3D and I’m glad that I did. I think the 3D would have given me a headache or just seemed gimmicky. There were many scenes where I got the impression that they were shot that way in order to take advantage of the 3D effect. Well, they did use proper 3D cameras to film it so that makes sense. Yet it’s almost too much. In 2D, there’s a bit less of a gimmicky feel but had I viewed this in 3D I think I would have very rapidly gotten tired of things flying at the screen, and the long sweeping camera moves. The 3D cameras were PJ’s new set of toys and he clearly had lots of fun with them in the same way that Spielberg enjoyed crazy flying shots in Tintin (because Spielberg hadn’t worked in the limitless world of animation before). Thus, the flaws were also the same. It felt a teensy bit overdone.
The production design and the music is as good as ever. Concept artists Alan Lee and John Howe still have their mark all over the look of the movie, costume design is all right (I find it difficult to comment on the design of Dwarvish garments) and NZ’s tourism industry is sure to benefit from all the amazing scenic shots in the movie. Howard Shore’s score is interestingly similar to his scores for the three LOTR movies, yet not exactly the same. You can still pick out certain themes – such as the Hobbiton theme, and the Fellowship theme, and others – and that musical connection is nice. I rather liked the main motif for this movie (first minute or so of this).
My own skepticism combined with the mixed reviews meant that I went into the cinema with low expectations and I think this helped greatly. I didn’t find it as much a mess as I imagined it would be. That’s good. haha. I would give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey three stars. ★★★