The Hobbit was always going to face the tremendous handicap of being compared to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The original trilogy was a masterpiece, and many casual movie goers might view this expecting The Hobbit to come to the same epic scale. But the story of Bilbo’s great adventure is not as grand and world-changing as Frodo’s was. It is instead an entertaining prelude to the later events of the Lord of the Rings, one made to give more to an ever craving fan base.
The skepticism had always been high ever since The Hobbit was announced. The absence of LOTR director Peter Jackson guiding every step of the process made fans nervous before he finally did take the role. The filming being done 48 frames per second rather than the traditional 24 worried some, and the decision to turn the Hobbit, which is the shorter than any one book in the Lord of the Rings, into a three-part movie made many cringe.
First, if there is anyone that could pull off this project it’s Peter Jackson. And for all the conspiracies surrounding the decision to divide the hobbit into three parts, I would rule out the theory that Jackson orchestrated a trilogy so he could make his money pool a few feet thicker. I’m sure the studio was thrilled to hear of his designs, but it is more likely that the decision was driven by Jackson’s intense love of the Tolkien and his constant strive for perfection to showcase that affection. He would not be making a trilogy if he didn’t think it could or should be done.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a very good movie, and a signal that the best has yet to come. This first installment is a necessary buildup leading to the next two films, showcasing Frodo and Bilbo in Bagend just before Bilbos 111th, and loaded with prologue giving detail for the purpose of the story, covering the personalities and qualities of the party of dwarfs, and detailing some of The Hobbits’ initial adventure encounters including the trolls or the misty mountain giants.
And the 48 frames, which I assume is what I watched it in 2D, looked brilliant. You could make a BBC documentary just following Bilbo and the dwarfs through Middle Earth and I would be content watching the scenery of New Zealand come to life for hours on end. The CGI of the film was well done throughout most of the film, and nearly perfected compared to many elements of the LOTR CGI thanks to the further development of the technology. There was at most a scene or two that looked a bit off with the effects in 48 frames, but nothing that justifies the stupid fervor of complaint I heard from many film critics. The goblins aren’t as grotesque and evil as what junkies of Tolkien will remember in the mines of Moria, but they are well animated and just as vicious. I think the decision to move from actor based orcs to CGI was partly motivated by the desire to give The Hobbit a separate vibe from the original trilogy at any chance it could as to not to appear to be shadowing past success.
The true showcase of perfected CGI came during the riddles in the dark with Gollum. Gollum is as creepy and twisted as ever, and some of the films best moments come during sequences between him and Bilbo.
Actor Martin Freeman is a perfectly adapted to play Bilbo. His anxious, timid, and well-mannered nature is precisely the quality that Bilbo needed to have to convincingly appear as the unseemly hero that he becomes throughout the book.
It’s good that these films were able to be filmed during the time that they were. The ten-year gap assures there will be a new base of fans that will come to love Tolkien both in movie and book because much of the original cast in LOTR including Gandalf, Bilbo, Galadriel,Frodo, Sarumon, and Elrond are all shown. It is exciting to see more interaction of Middle Earth’s greats in much of the same scenery like Bagend and Rivendell, and this trilogy will achieve success simply by incorporating much of the same talent and setting demonstrated in LOTR.
An Unexpected Journey is mostly true to the book, while also adding heavy elements of Tolkien lore and detail included in the Samirillian and other appendices that enrich the story. This addition is what will ultimately give The Hobbit its justification to be three full length films. Lovers of Lord of the Rings will be ecstatic with the lore and action sequences elaborating them, but the average movie goer might find these boring or irrelevant. This holds true with this first film, which although includes some great action and drama, is also given a slower pace with the earlier scenes which put the story into motion.
I did not expect The Hobbit to be as grandiose or epic as the Lord of the Rings, because it is a lighter story, with seemingly less at stake and structured to be told as a great tale from the history of Middle Earth leading to grander events. This may make some viewers feel cheated and less compelled, but I separate myself from them, as this is a good film and story worthy of being added to the geeky fantasy collection, and one that makes me highly anticipate the coming depths of the Lonely Mountain and beyond.
I give it an 8.6/10