“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever… Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths ofguile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” …a simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.” — (C) Warner Bros
In one word, the film was epic. Now whether that’s a good thing or not is still up for debate. Personally, I’m torn. Especially with the knowledge that there will be two more films after this. On the one hand, I’m happy because we get to explore the world of Middle Earth more. On the other–
Well, let’s just say that compared to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first of the three Hobbit movies is narratively weak.
Now, for those who are unfamiliar with the source material, the Hobbit is a prequel to The Lord of the Rings, a novel that’s more packed and fast-paced than the original trilogy–meaning, author Tolkien trimmed out a lot of unnecessary details that he deemed unimportant to the book. Yes, book. Unlike the original trilogy, The Hobbit begins and end in just one book. So why three films?
According to interviews given by the producers, writers, and the director: it’s to put in the stuff Tolkien left out, to make the film more fleshed out. I found this idea interesting, especially since I was very intrigued with Gandalf’s side quests in the story that were barely glanced upon in the book. There’s a promise of seeing those quests in full action in the films. Yay.
Except, in An Unexpected Journey, none of the added action seem particularly interesting. Gandalf’s meeting with Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman the White was repeating information that we already know from an earlier scene with Radagast, and the one where Gandalf and Elrond meet for the first time (in the film, I mean).
The added stuff that did work though had more to do with the dwarves–especially with Thorin. The people behind the film thought it would be a good idea to flesh out the history of the dwarf leader–and they were right. Thorin’s become a much more relatable character with the flashbacks to what he had gone through prior to meeting Bilbo Baggins.
Unfortunately for the other dwarves, save for Kili, they didn’t have much to work with.
And that leads me back to my assessment that An Unexpected Journey is narratively weak; instead of following Bilbo, our titular Hobbit, and the company of dwarves he suddenly finds himself part of, we get thrown about a lot to quite a few different characters. Although it’s fun, as a fan, to see how Peter Jackson plant the seeds that would push the world of Middle Earth into the version we see in The Lord of the Rings, but as a regular viewer it’s makes for a confusing tale.
Take for example Radagast. We get a weak lead-in from Gandalf enumerating the existing wizards and suddenly we’re rushing through the forest following this character we know nothing about. And he doesn’t even add anything to the story of The Hobbit–his arc has more to do with the setting into motion of the events of The Lord of the Rings! From there we jarringly cut back to the main plot where our heroes are, well, still on the road without a care (and unaffected by) what happened to Radagast.
I am reserving judgment on the decision to make a trilogy still though. Maybe the second and third films will justify the need to split the story into three. But from what we get in the first film, I’m already having doubts.
That said, An Unexpected Journey is still very fun to watch. Martin Freeman is a joy to watch as Bilbo Baggins. And he is Bilbo, there’s no doubt about it. Actor Freeman was able to lose himself completely to the role that by film’s end, you’d have forgotten that he played any other role.
And the Riddles in the Dark chapter of the film is exceptionally executed by Peter Jackson and his team. It was exceptional.
I might not have enjoyed The Hobbit as much as I thought I would, but the bottom line is still that I enjoyed. And An Unexpected Journey is truly an adventure for the family. And for the girls who don’t think they’ll find anything to like now that there’s no Legolas to fawn over?
One word: Kili. And he’s proficient with the bow too.