Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and Peter Jackson alike waited over ten years from the release of the first Lord of the Rings movie in 2001 to the release of Peter Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit in December of 2012. After ten years of disputes with the Tolkien estate, Warner Bros. buying New Line Cinemas, changes in the director, and the splitting of The Hobbit into two and then three films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey finally hit theaters last December. It came on a wave of high expectations, as Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy set Oscar-winning records and received excellent reviews from fans and critics alike. Now people waited anxiously to see if Peter Jackson could pull off Tolkien’s smaller, happier, yet still beloved story of a hobbit who travels with a company of dwarves to fight a dragon and regain their homeland and treasure.
Even before the film was released, Jackson’s decision to split the story into three films raised a lot of doubts among fans. There were rumors of some kind of romantic relationship going on between Gandalf and Galadriel, and Jackson almost cut the dwarves from 13 to 8. Jackson, along with writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh added a new female character not created by Tolkien (Tauriel) and that also ruffled a few feathers. For these reasons, many fans were uneasy.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was not a perfect film, but this die hard Tolkien fan enjoyed it. Here is a quick run through of some of the things that I thought made the film worth watching.
The acting was very good. Richard Armitage was an excellent Thorin, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with this. When I read the book for the first time in third grade, Thorin was my favorite character. Richard Armitage did a wonderful job embodying Thorin’s leadership, stubbornness, pride, and loyalty. The Thorin in the movie was the Thorin of the books, and Richard Armitage deserves credit for this.
I cannot say enough good things about Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He is the perfect hobbit. He was respectable yet quirky, unassuming and English. He portrayed Bilbo’s deep love for his home. He struggled with self-doubt but he managed to prove himself, which he will continue to do in the next two films.
It’s needless to say that Ian McKellen was fantastic as Gandalf the Grey, and just as needless to say that Cate Blanchett was superb as Galadriel. It was also quite excellent to see Hugo Weaving return as Elrond, not to mention Brett McKenzie (Figwit) as well. In Sylvester McCoy (Dr. Who) we definitely saw the animal loving wizard Radagast, but I hopefully look forward to seeing his badass wizard side in future movies.
It was incredibly heart warming to see Ian Holm and Elijah Wood return in the beginning of the film to set the story before “An Unexpected Party”. Gollum also made an appearance. There were also other elements that LOTR fans will recognize from Jackson’s original trilogy and the books. Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens included Tolkien’s original playful song when the dwarves crashed Bilbo’s home. Their subtle tributes to Tolkien’s original novel will endear this film to true fans. Dedicated fans will also appreciate the extra footage from the appendices of the Lord of the Rings, including the meeting of the White Council and Gandalf’s investigation at Dol Goldur.
Despite all the good things about this movie, there were a few things that I did not like about the film. The movie was longer than it really needed to be, but given Peter Jackson’s record with films, that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. Still, at times it felt like Thorin and company were traveling from one skirmish to the next. This is in part because they were being hunted by the orc Azog. While Azog is an original Tolkien character, he does not chase Thorin and company in the book. However, besides Azog, the plot was true to Tolkien’s original story.
In comparison, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. However, I think that fans of both Tolkien’s work and Peter Jackson’s work can enjoy the film. It features “Riddles in the Dark,” my favorite chapter in The Hobbit, and gives you a glimpse of the dragon Smaug. I look forward to seeing the next two Hobbit films, The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again. There is more to come in the Hobbit trilogy, including giant spiders, elves, a dragon, and a huge battle. So watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on DVD and look for The Desolation of Smaug in December.