The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was directed by Peter Jackson the celebrated visionary behind The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. He also receives a writing credit along with others including Guillermo Del Toro who was originally going to direct before schedules got in the way and Jackson stepped in to take the project forward.
The story is a faithful retelling of the original tale written by J. R. Tolkien. We must remember though that this is but the first part of a trilogy of films so will only take us so far. In this first part we see a gathering of dwarfs (plus a hobbit and wizard) bound together to go on a quest back to their mountain home to reclaim their lost lands from an evil dragon. The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), is initially reluctant to join the quest and the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is concerned he may have made a mistake in selecting Bilbo to join in this dangerous undertaking.
To put this review in context I am watching the first two Hobbit films in preparation for the release of the final one of the trilogy as I didn’t see them at the time of release. I am not a Peter Jackson fan boy – I thought the Lord of the Rings films were OK and I really didn’t like King Kong (2005). I couldn’t see why you needed three hours for a 90-min B movie about an over-sized gorilla? Don’t even get me started on the plot holes or King Kong sliding across a frozen pond on his bottom.
Anyway, the first thing to say about this film is that it is long, very long. When the film was laid out in the narrative at the beginning I thought, OK, we’ll see the Dwarfs travel home having a variety of adventures before fighting and defeating the dragon. I was wrong. Normally I like being wrong but not on this occasion. In this film Mr Jackson et al take a little over 2 hours 30 minutes to move the quest from Bilbo’s home to within sight of their mountain home. Why? A lot of stuff happens but it doesn’t really move the story along. Based on what little I know about the third film it is becoming increasingly obvious that the story of the book should have been told in two parts (as Del Toro originally envisioned). The quest to the mountain and fighting the dragon is one film. The presumed fall out is the second.
There is a tension at the heart of the film in terms of what type of movie does it want to be? In many ways it is a family friendly, light hearted romp in a green and pleasant land but there are also scenes of mass killing and bits being hacked off. Martin Freeman plays well into the first part as a slightly bumbling socially awkward Baggins but when the tone turns dark he feels out of place and jarring. Ian McKellen finds the role of Gandalf a breeze to play and Richard Armitage (who I bad mouthed in my review of Into The Storm (2014) is suitably moody as Thorin, son of Korin, son of Bobbin, son of Dobbin.
It’s not a bad film by any stretch of the imagination but it’s taken up a lot of resources to go not very far. However, Warner Bros won’t care because it took over $1bn at the global box office. I peeked ahead so to speak and the box office or The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) took a dip which is no surprise given this film was something of a disappointment. When I say dip it took circa $950m so I doubt the executive washrooms are at risk at studio HQ. I’ll watch the second film shortly and I am promised a much more exciting ride.