flickflackmovietalk

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Flack’s Review)

Posted on | December 28, 2012 | Add Comments

Bilbo Baggins and some dwarves in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

3 1/2 Stars

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey tells the beginning of Bilbo Baggin’s epic adventure. Bilbo lives a comfortable yet uneventful life in Bag End. But when Gandalf the Grey, a tall and powerful wizard, comes to persuade Bilbo to go on an adventure, things get complicated. 13 dwarves arrive at Bilbo’s house, eat all his food, and ruin certain parts of his home. Eventually Bilbo decides to go along with Gandalf and the dwarves. But what is this adventure, exactly? It’s a quest to reclaim the dwarves’ castle. Invaded many years ago by a dragon named Smaug, their home is filled with treasure! In an attempt to reclaim what is rightfully theirs’, Bilbo, and Gandalf face treacherous obstacles along the way during the first segment of (for Bilbo, at least) an unexpected journey…

I will start this review off by saying that I have read the book The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien, but have not read The Lord of the Rings books or seen The Lord of the Rings movies. And as for the decision about making The Hobbit into three films, I am a bit skeptical though more excited by all the possibilities, than some at least.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins the way I expected it, based on all the critics’ reviews and the decision to make a trilogy out of a single book: the film starts off slow. We spend a long, long, long (I’ll just say overlong, to keep my sentence not too, too, too overlong..long…long!) time at Bilbo’s house. I must say the dwarves’ slapstick comedy as well as the funny dialogue (Gandalf talking about “the game of golf was invented” takes the cake, I just gotta say!). I also can’t think of anything I’d leave on the cutting room floor from the scenes in Bilbo’s house, but it just felt a little… uneventful (not unexpected).

A dwarf and a troll in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Once the adventure does get going, however, I didn’t get much more pleased with the film. While the beginning is actually rather daring for a blockbuster (can you honestly name a big budget extravaganza from this year that spends 20+ minutes in one character’s house, without any action scenes?) the middle is overly conventional. We simply get one action scene. And then another… And then another… And then another… And then you get the idea, already! While the middle third of the film is no slog and some of the fight sequences are really entertaining the film doesn’t head in one, concrete direction.

Galadriel and Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Things slow down (and get a bit weird: Galadriel seeming in love with Gandalf and then just oddly disappearing) when we take time to visit Elrond, played nicely by Hugo Weaving, and some other visitors: Saruman, portrayed by Christopher Lee, and Galadriel, played by Cate Blanchett. This not in the book sequence is a nice break from all the action (and I assume) a chance for Lord of the Rings fans to catch a peek at former favorite characters, but it just didn’t grab me. Though it may be, as I already said, a good chance to “slow down” the movie it’s just not interesting enough for Peter Jackson to grant it an ability to be as lengthy as it is.

However to make up for the disjointed beginning we get an amazing third act. There’s the riddle packed Bilbo and Gollum confrontation, a big goblin battle, and a flaming pinecones filled fight with Thorin’s old enemy, Azoc. Honestly these three climaxes could’ve been in separate movies. Bilibo and Gollum in this one, goblin fight in the sequel, and the pinecone sequence in the last installment (with added Smaug). Or a better idea would be to have added the dragon to this film, saved some money for other films, and stopped all the criticism of expanding the story. And with just that they could have made one film, not three. Maybe two films would’ve been the right fit.

Martin Freeman is great as Bilbo Baggins, turning in a mostly comical role. All Freeman needs to do is win an Oscar, star in some other blockbusters, and complete The Hobbit trilogy. If he can survive all that he’ll become a full fledged movie star. Alot of the times the star of a movie series will disappear once their franchise has ended, but that normally happens to younger actors (Elijah Wood of The Lord of the Rings, just 20 when The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001, is a prime example). Freeman is 41 and, despite the fact that his biggest role up unto this point was starring as Arthur Dent in franchise hopeful turned disastrous flop The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, he’s great here. He shows just the right amount of comic verve and jolly vigor. He does a commendable job without ever turning into a bland macho man. It’s a fine performance…but just that… fine. There seems to be just a bit lacking there. It’s not Oscar worthy or classic, for that matter, either. But it’s good, nonetheless. And, FINE, I’ll stop complaining already!

The supporting cast is strong but unsurprising. Ian McKellen (as Gandalf the Grey) and Richard Armitage, as Thorin Oakenshield, are okay but nothing different than the normal type of actors who appear in fantasy franchises. Meanwhile, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood have totally unnecessary screen time, reprising their roles (Old Bilbo and Young Frodo, respectively) from The Lord of the Rings. They do NOTHING interesting in an opening prologue that isn’t returned to for the rest of the film. As for the dwarves, they’re “quite a merry gathering” though no single actor stands out.

Technically the film is wonderful, with dazzling sets, amazing effects (both sound and special), weird yet great make-up, and a terrific score by Howard Shore—featuring a hummable theme melody and the so-so Song of the Lonely Mountain by Neil Finn.

A rock monster battling the heroes in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)Now to quickly sum up my thoughts on seeing this film in IMAX 3-D; brilliantly incredible! Seriously, Hugo and The Amazing Spider-Man are the only films that could rub shoulders with The Hobbit in my pantheon list of The Greatest 3-D Films (if I ever did one!). And after seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark, back in it’s September re-release, and this (these are the only two IMAX films I can vividly remember watching) I now feel like IMAX is one of the ultimate ways to experience cinema in this day and age. Combine them together and shake the pot and…and…and…TA-DA!!! You’ve got movie magic, especially for a cinematic event such as this one (take note of the awesomely in-your-face moving and/or living rock mountain scene!)!

Gollum hiding from Bilbo in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jouney (2012)

My favorite scene is the triple climax. I’ve already talked about the goblin battle and the Azoc-pinecone fight. But just to review: while the goblin battle is particularly thrilling the Azoc fight has particular emotional resonance, thanks to Thorin’s tragic connection to the made up big baddie. As for the riddle sequence, Andy Serkis turns in an unsurprisingly great as Gollum, even if he doesn’t pour emotion (as in Rise of the Planet of the Ape’s Caesar) or slapstick comedy (as in The Adventures of Tintin’s Captain Haddock) into the small role. But as for the scene there’s not much to it, apart from the fun yet creepy riddles. Nonetheless it’s probably the most satisfactory scene of the film for fans of the book. While each third of the climax may not be wholly satisfying on it’s own, added up they create an entertaining finale.

My favorite character is Bilbo Baggins. He’s not the ideal protagonist for a big budget fall film but that’s what makes him great. We spend a great deal of time seeing his decision making process of whether or not to go on an adventure with Gandalf. But despite this overlong showcase of one Hobbit’s predictable decision we still get to know the character and savor Martin Freeman’s witty performance enough to be happy with Peter Jackson’s big screen interpretation of one classic character (or I should say Hobbit!).

Thorin Oakenshield prepares to battle Azoc in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. I agree but would add that anyone over 11 or 12 will be fine, depending on your level of sensitivity. NOTE FOR THOSE OF ALL AGES: The flashback to the death of Thorin’s father is revoltingly gross, no matter how old you are.

The movie wants to be a comedy. It wants to be an epic. It wants to appeal to toddlers, teenagers, and people who read The Hobbit when it was first published. Sometimes it succeeds, sometimes it doesn’t. But no matter what, this is a journey worth taking. A precious fantasy adventure that is is flawed, fun, and ferociously thrilling all in one. Bring on the sequels to a prequel! But for whatever reason Peter Jackson has decided to make three Hobbit movies. And that’s the way this epic trilogy will play out. I kinda want to shout out “Bring on the sequels to a prequel!”, but something tells me not too. At least we get some emotional highpoints, even if not nearly enough. “From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends.” reads the poster’s tagline. But from one book expanded into three films we get a visually awesome (especially in IMAX 3-D) yet overall ho-hum first installment.

Comments

Leave a Reply