Although I am a big Tolkien fan, I wouldn’t say I was extremely excited to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). I wanted to see it, but I could also easily wait 6-9 months for the home release. I’m not quite sure why that was the case. It was probably due to three reasons:
- I know the source material pretty well, since I’ve read the book a few times.
- It’s not my favorite book of all time, but it’s good as a children’s book.
- Various critics haven’t been giving the film stellar reviews, so my expectations have been tempered.
Still, it was worth seeing, and the kids wanted to see it as well. Family outing! We made plans to go see it Christmas Day afternoon at one of our local AMC theaters. The theater was absolutely packed that day, and there were long lines at the one working ticket kiosk, so I went up to Guest Services, waved my AMC Stubs card, and got our tickets printed. We eventually were let into our theater, found decent seats, I went out and came back with refreshments, 25 mins of previews, and then the film started.
The film starts off with a bookend of sorts, with Ian Holm as Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo, on the day of Bilbo’s 111st birthday party. Bilbo begins the prologue telling the audience about the history of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor, under King Thror. In pure Peter Jackson style, you get to see his visualization of what this dwarven kingdom looked like, which I think is always amazing to behold. They don’t show the dragon apart from some fire and a hint of some feet, so I guess they’re saving it for part 2 next year.
The film later takes you to the Shire 60 years ago, with Gandalf meeting a younger, stodgier Bilbo Baggins. Eventually, you have the Unexpected Party, the introduction of the dwarves, and then finally the adventure gets under way a long while later.
I won’t go into all the details of the adventure, but the party encounters the Trolls, more backstory on Thorin, introduction to Radagast, Orc hunting party chase scene, the party visits Rivendell, you get the White Council, Misty Mountains, more chasing, riddles in the dark, and more orcs. Peter Jackson, Walsh, and Boyens have mined the appendices for all sorts of information, and added it to the overall plot.
Several actors reprise their roles from The Lord of the Rings, including Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, and actors whose characters did not appear in the novel such as Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and Elijah Wood. I have also heard that Orlando Bloom will be making an appearance. Legolas is elven king Thranduill’s son, so I assume that will be in the 2nd film.
So what do I think of this epic 3-hour tale? Well, I think Jackson and company should have stuck to the original formula: cut an hour off, tighten up the film, and make that your theatrical edition for Tolkien fans and the casual audience. Reinsert the cut material, and sell the extended edition to all of the Tolkien fans like me.
The film is long, people. While somebody like me (or my kids) who love the material will squeal when Radagast mentions Ungoliant from Tolkien’s work The Silmarillion, other people will go, “Huh?” The rock monster fight, the extra backstory, and a number of other scenes are more or less fine in and of themselves, but in total they made the film way to long to keep the interest of the casual moviegoer.
It was very nice and comforting to revisit Middle-Earth. It looks the same stylistically, and Howard Shore again does a wonderful job with the score. To see the Kingdom of
Erebor come alive was better than my own imagination. There’s a lot in The Hobbit that is visually stimulating, and the acting was good too. I thought Martin Freeman was an excellent choice to portray Bilbo. You dislike how stodgy Bilbo is initially, but you come to like him more as he himself evolves into a braver, more courageous person.