Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Genre(s): Adventure, Fantasy
Director(s): Peter Jackson
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Tomatoes: 65%
Going into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (or The Hobbit, as I will refer to it for the purpose of this review) I had very low expectations. When Peter Jackson announced it would be three movies, let alone two movies where I had already felt the source material was being stretched, I cringed. I knew no matter what the reviews were, I’d see this film, because I was curious what Jackson saw that needed to be kept in, and how he would adapt the children’s book that gave birth to the Lord of the Rings novels. Not only that, but I was also curious as to the presentation of the film, being the first big release to be presented in 48 frames per second (the films we all see are generally 24 frames per second). Everything I felt was going to be poor, and everything I felt was going to be great, did exactly as I predicted. The Hobbit is ambitious, beautiful, and welcomes its viewers back into the warm and quaint hobbit holes of Middle Earth, as it tries to be as detailed and entertaining as possible for every sort of audience. A film that truly begs the question, did this need to exist?
Perhaps that’s too loaded of a question. Yes, The Hobbit is a film that should exist, but in a much more condensed and refined version than it is available as right now. No, an extended edition does not need to be seen except by those who were completely floored by this film. The argument would initially be made that this movie just needed to be cut down by half an hour or so, but when reflecting back on it, exactly what would need to be cut out is dependent on what audience Peter Jackson is willing to aim for. The Hobbit is not a film with an epic story in the same vein as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s far from it, but Jackson wants to turn what is a simple, yet intimidating adventure for one Hobbit, into another massive war as the dwarfs of Erebor attempt to reclaim their homeland from Smaug, the dragon that seized it from them. Now, Smaug isn’t in the first movie except for a mere glimpse and in the introduction scene, reminiscent of The Fellowship of the Ring’s intro. It would have been a lot harder to make three movies from 280 pages if the main enemy was already present and involved in the dwarfs’ journey with young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). Instead, Jackson added an orc into the mix, one who was not in the novel but is a part of Thorin Oakenshield’s (Richard Armitage) story. So, much in the same way that The Lord of the Rings films told the parallel stories of Aragorn and Frodo, The Hobbit seems to be going for a parallel between Thorin and Bilbo.
Deriving from source material or even adding in your own supplementary material is fine when trying to make a film, but the major problems come from just how much the movie tries to juggle. This is a novel written for children, and Jackson has tried to emulate his success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy as much as he can. Unfortunately, I think he’s trying to be both faithful and successful in a way that sacrifices core components of his characters’ motivations and emotional journeys. Examining the main character here, Bilbo Baggins, there’s a lot to take in: he’s a hobbit who is very weary of adventure. He would prefer to live peacefully in his hobbit hole, living a mundane and boring life. When 13 dwarfs and Gandalf (Ian McKellan) appear on his front doorstep he is quickly swept into a massive adventure. Well, massive in comparison to the adventures he’s been having, but definitely nowhere close to that of Frodo’s own adventure to destroy a powerful ring and a dark lord. After a long night of dancing, singing, and panicking from Bilbo, the dwarfs and Gandalf leave without him. It’s not because anyone has changed their mind on Bilbo, but rather that Bilbo decides against going several times throughout the night. It’s not until he realizes that he may never again have the chance to experience an adventure like this that he chases them down and joins them on the journey. However, I never felt that was properly presented, and instead I had to infer this. Why make me infer that, but force me to sit through scenes that have no significance to the plot in any way?
I’m being too harsh right now, I know, but there are a lot of problems within this film. However, there are also plenty of great things to take from it. Bilbo is smart and cunning, seeing as how he sits at home read all day long, pipe in hand. This really shows when we finally witness an exchange of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum. It is probably one of the best scenes in the movie, and not as unnecessary as a lot of other scenes, but it is long-winded and redundant. The scene ultimately is the only place where Bilbo’s intellect is used in a compelling, or even apparent, way. The movie still relies on him becoming brave, something that constantly happens throughout with no clear motivation. Why would the guy who is worried about his hobbit hole’s cleanliness be okay with sneaking around trolls and climbing dangerous mountains? There’s never really any justification because Jackson is juggling two characters, trying to make them into parallels to Frodo and Aragorn, as previously mentioned.
The film plays to the childish elements of the book a lot in its first third, and has a nice gradual build-up into this epic adventure that Jackson has clearly set out to unfold. From the introduction of the dwarfs and their musical numbers to Radagast the Brown to a troll sequence that helps bridge the gap between serious epic and light-hearted drama. After this, the movie still has its moments of humor, as its completely indistinguishable cast of dwarfs bumble about and make witty comments or jokes about bodily functions. This humor is spread out very nicely in between giant action set pieces, that may not have an incredible amount of consequence to them, but feel grand in scale, providing that sense of grandeur which Jackson craves. The movie feels very much like the beginning of something big, but it attempts very much to be that big spectacle in almost every scene it can cram action into. There are three massive action scenes that occur back-to-back at the end of this film, none of which feel important in the grand scheme of things, especially one involving the Goblin King. Hopefully they are returned to in the future films, but at the time, it feels very much like the beginning to something with a lot of climaxes to help keep the audience’s attention until the end of the trilogy.
There’s also the technical aspect of The Hobbit that’s worth noting with visuals that are absolutely stunning and a score by Howard Shore that once again carries the epic harmonies loved in The Lord of the Rings. The main reason I actually went through seeing this film was the high frame rate, something that everyone should experience at least once. You’ll either love it or hate it, and it’s definitely not perfect, but it has a clarity that no other film can match. Frantic movement will cause blurriness and disorientation, but when it’s not an impressive fight sequence, there’s an unmatched clear picture that can only be seen to be believed. All the practical effects were also really well-handled and the CG blended in very well with the world. Yet, the 3D and 48 FPS definitely lent itself to some of the CG not fully working for me, such as the pale orc that serves as the main villain of the film.
There isn’t much more that can be complained about beyond the length of the film, its many unnecessary scenes, its attempts to emulate a tonally different film, and a lack of focus on the character that should matter most. It’s not that Bilbo is ever forgotten, but that his actions aren’t always justified, though really it’s his motivation to leave his home that isn’t developed enough and the rest of the film pays for that. And while emulating a tonally different film may not work for The Hobbit, it is able to go from light-hearted to serious throughout its 169 minute runtime without feeling like a jarring shift. The memorable troll scene is a nice mix of comedy and action to help meld the two extremes together, something that if cut would have likely left the film feeling completely disconnected. But in Jackson’s attention to detail and attempts to make the ultimate adaptation of The Hobbit novel, there’s so much that really should have been considered to be cut rather than left in for the sake of creating an extremely rich world, one that many fans of Tolkien’s work already got to explore in stunning depth from The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit is still an entertaining film on a very base level, with some interesting scenes that do make the film slightly worth seeing, but it’s bursting at the seams with details that in no way contribute to the story. Needless to say, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug has a lot of set-up here already done, and it’s solid framework to build upon, but there needs to be something more to make it rise anywhere close to the heights that The Lord of the Rings films reached.