The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings did cement Tolkien’s legacy into the annals of literature but it wasn’t the novel that really started the Middle-Earth mythology. Instead, it began years ago when Tolkien wrote a fantasy novel called The Hobbit, a children’s book very lighthearted & innocent in its tone compared to its much darker successor. Decades later, at the dawn of the new millennium, The Lord of the Rings made a historical transition to the silver screen. And so when the filmmakers decided to adopt The Hobbit on film canvas as well, they didn’t only have to make it reasonably faithful but also had a daunting task of living up to the mighty successful on-screen adaptation of The Lord of the Rings.
And thanks to the mixed reviews this film received at its time of release, which as a result dented my expectations from this film quite heavily, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey turned out to be an absolute feast for the eyes & is one hell of an on-screen adaptation of Tolkien’s work that, in my opinion, is unfortunately marred by only one major drawback; its inevitable comparison to The Lord of the Rings. Plus, as the novel has a much lighter tone & less intense story in comparison to its heavyweight sequel, it’s really admirable & astonishing to see how skilfully director Peter Jackson has crafted this film in order to bring it close to The Lord of the Rings and the film somehow manages to live up to majority of its hype & expectations, if not all.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first chapter of the planned Hobbit film trilogy which, as a whole, will serve as a prequel to the events depicted in The Lord of the Rings. It follows the journey of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, who is tricked by Gandalf the wizard to accompany the thirteen dwarves headed by Thorin Oakenshield in their quest to enter the Lonely Mountain & reclaim their lost Kingdom of Erebor from Smaug the dragon. The film opens with a brilliant prologue, which in an elaborate manner, narrates the ancient history of the Dwarven Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain, its prosperity under the rule of Dwarf king, Thrór, & how it was eventually taken over by Smaug, thus setting an ideal platform for An Unexpected Journey to build its story on while also familiarizing the newcomers to what this tale is about.
Expanding a relatively slim book into three major feature films, when the entire story could’ve been told in a single film, did allow Peter Jackson to explore in detail almost every event of the book but it also robbed the film of a steadier pace. The movie is nearly three hours long & the plot is very slow-building, taking its time to immerse some viewers into its story while annoying others. The small dose of action sequences do keep the entertainment going & in order to link it with The Lord of the Rings, the writers have used the appendices of the novel wherever possible. Overall, Peter Jackson’s direction once again brings alive Middle-Earth in all its majesty & most fans will be very pleased with his effort as, in spite of the book being a lightweight material, Jackson has done a neat enough job of bringing this film as close as possible to his magnum opus.
Coming to the technical aspects, The Hobbit is one of the finest visual spectacles of its year & the overall production turns out to be almost as impressive as its other Middle-Earth saga. Art direction & set decoration beautifully bring back the homely Bag End, the evergreen Shire & the dazzling Rivendell while the new sets introduce Goblin town, Gollum’s cave & the Kingdom of Erebor in stunning detail. Cinematography covers even more unexplored locations of New Zealand in a mesmerizing manner while also providing the magical ambience of Middle-Earth to the entire film. Editing could’ve been slightly improved as there were many moments in the film’s 170 minutes of runtime that should’ve been further trimmed. The extended edition adds 13 minutes of additional footage but unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it doesn’t enrich the overall experience of the film & only adds minor enhancements to the film’s storyline.
The visual effects of The Lord of the Rings commenced a new era for VFX in film and was unquestionably groundbreaking at its time. A decade later, Weta Digital returns to once again render the world that put this company on map & have done a fantastic job in making The Hobbit a visually spectacular adventure to a certain extent but unlike Jackson’s previous stint with Middle-Earth, which broke new grounds in almost every filmmaking department, The Hobbit brings nothing new to the table. There are still few positives though, best being the most convincing rendition of Gollum, so far, but its heavy reliance on CGI also cost it the grounded realism the previous trilogy had. Lastly, the film is beautifully scored from start to finish as the new tracks seamlessly blend with the existing ones from The Lord of the Rings, thus making the soundtrack of An Unexpected Journey another glorious achievement in Howard Shore’s career.
The Hobbit features a stellar cast of new & reprising actors and all of them chipped in with fine performances. Ian McKellen reprises his role of Gandalf the Grey & never seemed out of touch for once. Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins, the central character of this film, & delivers an outstanding performance as the Hobbit who accompanies a Company of Dwarves in their quest. There are thirteen dwarves in this film & yet, in spite of the film being nearly three hours long, none of them get a proper introduction except for their leader, Thorin Oakenshield, excellently played by Richard Armitage. Although absent from the book, Radagast the Brown makes an appearance in the film & is oddly played by Sylvester McCoy. But once again, the most impressive performance comes from Andy Serkis, who literally stole the show with his remarkable portrayal of Gollum. In fact, the riddle scene between Gollum & Bilbo in Gollum’s cave was the only time An Unexpected Journey felt as magical as The Lord of the Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit is actually a much slimmer novel than its sequel, The Lord of the Rings. As a matter of fact, The Hobbit is even slimmer than each of the three volumes of its successor, not to forget its much lighter tone in comparison with the latter. The entire story could’ve been told in one film but instead, is overly expanded into three. However, the adjacent plot line related to the Necromancer & making Azog this film’s primary antagonist somehow manage to work in its favour. On an overall scale, in spite of its bloated length & other inconsistencies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is still an unexpectedly impressive commencement of another Middle-Earth adventure that’ll satisfy most fans of Tolkien’s universe. There are few missteps along the path but rest of its footing has been pretty spot-on. Quite faithfully adapted, wonderfully crafted & cleverly concluded, An Unexpected Journey may not be as memorable or spellbinding as The Lord of the Rings but it begins The Hobbit film series on a right note nevertheless & it’ll be very interesting to see where it journeys from here.