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Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

By MJ Snow on Oct 8, 2013 to New Movies

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Clear your calendars, HBO Watchers, because Saturday, 10.12, is the HBO debut of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, the first installment in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit Trilogy. Considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, Tolkien originally published The Hobbit, or There and Back Again in 1937. After the success of Jackson’s adaptation of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, his decision to produce The Hobbit Trilogy, which would serve as a prequel to the LOTR Trilogy, was met with great anticipation from fans of the books and films, alike. After many delays due to rights issues, lawsuits and studios entering and exiting the picture, filming finally began on The Hobbit Trilogy, in March, 2011, and AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY premiered in theaters on 28, November, 2012.

This is, of course, a story of a how a quiet, reclusive hobbit from the Shire becomes involved in a grand and dangerous, unexpected adventure. It’s a story of kings and rings, dwarves, wizards and necromancers, dragons, swords and warriors. More importantly, however, it is a tale that shows us that good will prevail over evil, and that even the smallest of us can make a very great difference, indeed.

We begin the film with Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) in his hobbit hole at Bag End on his eleventy-first birthday, writing about his unexpected journey in order to share his story with his young nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). Bilbo’s tale, massive in both scope and scale, begins with the underground city of Erebor, a wealthy kingdom of dwarves under the Lonely Mountain, ruled by the dwarf king, Thrór. The dwarves prosperity comes to and end when the dragon, Smaug, arrives and wreaks havoc on all who are unfortunate enough to be in his path. The dragon burns the town of Dale which is inhabited by Men, then drives the dwarves into exile, laying claim to the Lonely Mountain and all the treasure it contains. One of the few survivors of the Lonely Mountain is Thorin (Richard Armitage), grandson of Thrór. Thorin’s everlasting hatred of Elves is born that day, when he sees King Thranduil (Lee Pace) of the Wood Elves lead his army away, rather than aiding the dwarves.

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Back at Bag End, Bilbo begins to tell his own part of the tale, in which the wizard, Gandalf the Grey, visits the young hobbit and proposes that he “share in an adventure.” Gandalf then hosts a party (without poor Bilbo’s consent) at Bag End, for Thorin and his dwarven company. We are introduced to Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori, Óin, Glóin, Fili and Kili, all of whom proceed to make themselves at home, eating all of the hobbit’s food and causing poor, mild mannered Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to become quite put out. When Gandalf finally arrives, he suggests that Bilbo join Thorin and company as they journey to the Lonely Mountain and attempt to reclaim their gold and the city of Erebor.

document-overall2sm__1381254873_80.111.44.50From start to finish, the dwarves invasion of Bag End is brilliantly done, and everything from the choreography of tossing the plates, to the dwarves singing a haunting rendition of “The Misty Mountains,” is just absolutely gorgeous. I have read, on several websites, complaints about the singing in the movie. This is actually something that I was thrilled to see included, as Tolkien’s books are filled with songs, and I felt this was not well enough represented in the LOTR Trilogy.

After an initial refusal, a great deal of indecision, and finally, a very brave… and completely out of character… change of heart, Bilbo joins Gandalf and the dwarves, taking on the role of “burglar.” Their first taste of what difficulties lie in store for them occurs when the party is captured by three trolls. Bilbo cleverly saves the day, with a little help from Gandalf. A search of the trolls’ cave results in the acquisition of two Elven blades, and an Elf made shortsword, which is given to Bilbo.

We then encounter the wizard, Radagast the Brown, who tells of the Necromancer, who has taken possession of nearby Dol Guldur. Radagast tells a chilling tale of how the Necromancer’s dark magic has been slowly draining the life from the Greenwood. Orcs appear then, riding on wargs, and chase the company, forcing them to seek sanctuary with the Elves at Rivendell… very much against Thorin’s wishes. Here the Elf Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), is able to help decipher Thorin’s map, which is a great help to the quest of the dwarves. Gandalf meets with the White Council at Rivendell, giving Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) a brief appearance in the film and padding Saruman’s storyline which comes to a head in the LOTR Trilogy.

Gandalf and the company part ways, just before Bilbo and the dwarves travel into the Misty Mountains. Here they find themselves caught in the midst of a battle of stone giants. Narrowly escaping with their lives, the dwarves are captured by goblins. Bilbo is separated from the group, falling into a cave where he meets Gollum (Andy Serkis). In the cave, he acquires a golden ring, which Gollum has carelessly dropped while murdering a goblin. When Gollum encounters Bilbo, they engage in a game or riddles. If Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the caves, but if Gollum wins, he gets to eat Bilbo for dinner. Gollum suddenly figures out that Bilbo may have stolen his ring and gives chase, but Bilbo manages to escape with his life.

Gandalf turns up in the nick of time, helping the dwarves escape. When Bilbo catches them up, however, he does not tell the company about the ring that he now possesses, although he is not quite sure why he keeps that information to himself. Just when they think they’ve got a moment to breathe, a band of orcs moves in for the attack. These warg-riding orcs are led by Azog, the orc chieftain who beheaded the dwarf king Thrór and who has put out a bounty on Thorin’s head. The final scene of the movie is a suspenseful confrontation between the dwarves and orcs, with the dwarves pushed perilously up against the edge of a cliff. The climax of the film is action packed and keeps even seasoned book readers on the edge of their seats.

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When I was growing up, The Hobbit was my favorite book. If you’ve read my Game of Thrones Reviews, you’re probably groaning, rolling your eyes, and steeling yourself to read an angry rant about how Peter Jackson has ruined this, most perfect of books, in a thousand different ways. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Book purists like myself rejoiced to see the amount of studious attention to detail and faithfulness to story and character development that went into both the writing and production of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing a movie that more meticulously recreated it’s source material on the big screen. In just under three hours, we are treated to the first six chapters of Tolkien’s masterpiece. In addition, Jackson has provided us with an impressive amount of back-story to support the characters and events of The Hobbit.

As in the LOTR Trilogy, the casting for AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is spot on, with an impressive array of both familiar faces and new additions. Martin Freeman makes an excellent Bilbo, and the transition between the familiar Ian Holm and Freeman is seamless. For me, Richard Armitage absolutely steals the show as Thorin Oakensheild. Although I’m a fan of Armitage, when I first read about the casting, I was a little bit dismayed, as I’d always pictured the character as older and more wizened. What a pleasant surprise to watch Armitage bring Thorin to life as strong, regal and incredibly relatable.

There were changes made to the story, of course. It’s simply not possible to showcase every single detail of such a complex work of literature. You may be surprised, dear reader, that I’m not going to argue any of the changes that were made to the story. Unlike with another epic fantasy series in the process of being adapted for the screen which shall not be named, I didn’t find any of the changes that were made to be terribly damaging to the overall plot of The Hobbit, nor did I find the changes made to be in any way offensive to the original work by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Interestingly, however, it was the meticulous attention to detail that went into the making of AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY which brought forth criticism from the non-book-purist world. This faction of the audience lamented the somewhat slow pace of the movie, some calling it plodding, while others complained that in nearly three hours of JOURNEY, we never really got anywhere. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I’ll leave it to you to decide for yourselves whether this is an epic win or a road to nowhere. I know that I’ll definitely be tuning in on Saturday night to relive the beginning of Bilbo’s journey once again.

Can’t wait for Saturday to arrive? Check out the trailer for THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY to get you ready for the HBO premiere:

 

…And one more thing to whet your appetite, he’s the trailer for the second installment of The Hobbit Trilogy, THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, coming to theaters in November 2013:

 

MJ Snow is a Canine and avian behavior specialist, role player, blogger and writer.  A long time George RR Martin fangirl and Game of Thrones Addict, MJ spends way too much time in Westeros. MJ is the co-founder of The Snow Keep, a short story and fan-ficiton blog, and founder of  The Brothers Clegane, a Sandor & Gregor Clegane tribute blog. She also co-curates several other Game of Thrones themed blogs.

MJ on Twitter  Google Plus

 

  • Eleonora Iafano

    Love these Tolkien movies. I have always enjoyed movies that are able to intertwine good versus evil, the power of love, the importance of teamwork and how sometimes, all it takes is one person to make a difference. :)

  • Nice review, MJ. As a Tolkien enthusiast, I am a fan of Jackson’s focus and choices in adapting his works (the runt of the litter, like you), up to a point. The LOTR trilogy was perfect, in my eyes, except for a few minor details. It’s my favorite film series, too. As much as I like AUJ, however, it just never registered and hit the same note as set by LOTR. That fact was always going to be a worry, and to an extent I think Jackson is trying to equal or top LOTR, which is an impossible task and could prove detrimental to The Hobbit trilogy as a whole. Overall, I did love the tone of AUJ; the writing, the overall story arc, not to mention the top class casting and acting.

    What I didn’t like was the extreme over-reliance on CGI. There was just way too much of it. Compare the CGI goblins to the Uruk-hai in full prosthetics and make-up. Not once would you consider during LOTR that the Uruk-hai (or the orcs) were real people dressed up. They looked and felt so authentic. The goblins and orcs of The Hobbit pale in comparison. The chase in Goblin town is exemplary of this, as the Company sweeps through literally hundreds of weightless, CGI goblins unscathed, as the goblins comically fall to their doom. Contrastingly, a single Uruk in LOTR is terrifying. Granted, The Hobbit is a children’s tale, so it deserves to be a bit more “cartoony” and less dark than LOTR. But, by including elements from The Silmarrillion and greater Middle Earth as a whole, Jackson contradicts the tone he set for himself. By tying the wider Necromancer/Dol Guldur plot in (which is a fantastic idea), he seems to be at a loss as to what to do with all the material.

    Finally, Azog. While it is an interesting idea (and one that I like) to modify the history and include him in the plot directly, I thought the execution was terrible. His inclusion feels very forced, as if Jackson thought he HAD to include some kind of villain or “final boss” in AUJ. That, coupled with the fact that he just isn’t very intimidating, doesn’t work in the film’s – or the trilogy’s – favor. Compare Lurtz at the end of FOTR (who had far less screentime and dialogue) to Azog. Lurtz is absolutely terrifying in his short role, and we never consider the fact that he is anything other than an Uruk, whereas upon seeing Azog, we can instantly see that he isn’t real, and a detachment is created, breaking immersion. Again, an over-use of CGI is to the detriment of the film.

    I was a bit skeptical about the seemingly strong focus on Legolas and Tauriel in the first TDOS trailer, but after seeing the new one, my faith has been restored. TDOS will most likely be the strongest of the three Hobbit installments. It’s definitely my most anticipated movie in years, and I can’t wait!










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