I recently had the pleasure of sitting through the extended cuts of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back at the movie theater, and was pleasantly reminded of how much I really enjoy those films. They are an ambitious and fantastic accomplishment. I didn’t know what to expect going into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey late last night, but I have to say all of my doubts about the franchise were put to rest over the course of this first chapter of Bilbo Baggins’ adventures.
I’ve been saying for weeks that if Peter Jackson was going to break a Hobbit movie into three parts that there better not be a wasted moment in the entire thing. It would be too easy for these films to feel exploitive; trying to pinch every last penny out of their audience, but so far I’m not disappointed at all about the choice to break it up. I haven’t read the book The Hobbit. I had planned to before going into the movie, but got too busy with school. I will read the book before the next chapter comes out, and if I review the next installment, will be more able to discuss the films as adaptations, but for now I’m just letting the films exist on their own merit.
I have to give a lot of credit for my liking of this film to Martin Freeman, who plays the titular hero. Bilbo here is 60 years younger than the events of The Lord of the Rings. He’s young and thoroughly a Hobbit (meaning his love of his home is matched only by his fear of leaving his home). So, when Bilbo is called on to help Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen reprising his role), and a troup of wayward dwarves headed by Thorin (Richard Armitage) in their mission to reclaim their home from a dragon, Bilbo understandably faints. But, Bilbo’s thirst for adventure ultimately wins out and the company set out toward the Lonely Mountain.
I’ve been a huge fan of Martin Freeman for years. He seems to always be the perfect fit for whatever role he’s put in even though his acting style is always somewhat the same character to character. And yet, there is something distinctly Ian Holm about his portrayal of Bilbo here. The way he speaks and the subtlest little mannerisms cement in the audience’s mind that this is in fact the same character from Lord of the Rings as a young Hobbit. It is truly remarkable. In fact, my favorite part of the film is a short monologue Bilbo gives near the end of the film about why he has chosen to return to the company and see the quest through to the end rather than using his new magical ring to return to the Shire where he’ll be safe. It’s wonderful.
My other favorite part is the scene with Gollum (Andy Serkis reprising his role). It would have been easy for these scenes to feel tacked on, with little winks to the audience about Gollum’s role in The Lord of the Rings, but these were just good, character-driven scenes in keeping with the more light-hearted tone of The Hobbit. This was definitely my favorite reprisal performance of this new film. Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchet, and Ian McKellen are all extremely talented actors, but these scenes with Gollum were everything I wanted from this new endeavor.
A few pleasant surprises in casting. I didn’t expect to see James Nesbitt (Jekyll) to turn up as one of the dwarves, and former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy has a fun role as Radagast the Brown, an environmentally friendly wizard.
Overall, this was a fun, action-packed, ambitious offering from Peter Jackson, and I was thoroughly entertained by it. With so many great films coming out this year it’s hard to say if The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will make my top 10, but it certainly seems possible. You’ll want to check this one out in theatres.