The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a love letter to and for Tolkien fans, and it was a joy to walk the lands of Middle Earth again (and yes, I got weepy eyed when I found myself back in the Shire, and in that comfy hole in the ground known as Bag End).
Non-fans and others may find the film a little bloated with an almost 3 hour run time, but Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Guillermo del Toro and Phillippa Boyens made sure that when they were bringing this adventure to the screen, that they didn’t confine themselves to the text of the novel. Instead they worked with the novel, and the lore and legend of Middle Earth, firmly planting the film in the reality of the world established by Tolkien and that of the world we’ve seen on screen in Lord of the Rings. And I for one, loved it all, the film flew by, and I enjoyed every moment of it.
Martin Freeman (Sherlock) takes on the titular role as Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who seems to be quite happy with his life in Bag End, until our old friend Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) decides that perhaps he needs some adventure, and wraps up the hobbit in a quest to reclaim the last great Dwarvish kingdon, and it’s long lost gold. He finds himself contracted as the 14th member of a group of dwarves that includes the one that would be king under the mountain, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Bofur (James Nesbitt – Jekyll) and Kili (Aiden Turner – BBC’s Being Human).
The film is partially lighter in tone, brought to life by the company of dwarves, with their songs and humor. But, always running underneath is the reality of the film world previously established in the LOTR trilogy.
I liked the expansion of the world, which saw Radagast the Brown (performed by the 7th regneration of The Doctor – Sylvester McCoy), a rather eccentric wizard, investigating a rising dark that seems to be spreading across Middle Earth in the form of a Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock, Star Trek) which sees the ressurection of the Witch King of Angmar, the leader of the Nazgul, or Ring Wraiths. It will lead to the eventual return of Sauron, which may not directly impact on this story of Bilbo, but helps put the film in the established historical context of that world.
It also led me to wonder about Bilbo’s use of The One Ring which he finds in Gollum’s (Andy Serkis) cave. What if his increased use of the ring, he uses it rather a lot in the original story, helps anchor Sauron in the world, and aids in bringing him and the Nazgul forth? Just a thought that past through my head.
Also added to the expanded world is Thorin being hunted done by Azog the White Orc, whom he faced in battle in the reclamation of Moria (though we know how that turns out in the next 60 years before Fellowship happens) . In battle, Thorin stood against him, earning his name Oakenshield and took one of Azog’s hands, and now he and his company, mounted on vicious wargs, are intent on running down the dwarves. I liked this touch, as it added a level of threat to the film, as well as a personal investment in the chase for both Azog and the orcs as well as Thorin.
Speaking of threats, one of Tolkien’s most famous scenes is in this film, featuring riddles in the dark between Bilbo and Gollum. The scene is interlaced with humour, but knowing what Gollum is capable of, or will be, puts a level of threat and menace when Gollum speaks instead of Smeagol. I was alternately chuckling between the riddles the two characters traded. as well as Smeagol’s facial expressions, and Bilbo’s inept waving of Sting about, and worried when Smeagol’s darker side came out. Serkis does a fine job of bringing Gollum to life again, and this is a Gollum 60 years younger, who will do nothing by hate Hobbits and Bagginses in particular for a long, long time.
For all the fun and adventure, as well as the love I have for the film, even I can’t help but notice the similarities of the story-telling between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, there are a lot of similar beats, leaving the Shire, trouble forcing them to the House of Elrond (Hugo Weaving), problems with Orcs inside the Misty Mountains, the Eagles… And of course, in the distance, a landmark marking their final destination, The Lonely Mountain.
That didn’t change my love for the original story or film though. It was for me, a true delight, and something I personally needed.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo is perfect casting, Freeman has shown in his performances on Sherlock and the Office that he can handle comedy and drama with equal deftness, and both are put to use in this film. He has wonderful comedic timing, and can sell a moment with just a look or noise. No more so than in his confrontation with the three trolls, and then of course we get to see how they arrive at their fate before Frodo and his friends stumble across them after the assault on Weathertop (which we also see in this film) in Fellowship.
There’s lot of exposition at the head of the movie as Bilbo (Ian Holm) tells us and Frodo (Elijah Wood) about the history that leads to the story, that of the Arkenstone and Erebor, the kingdom under the mountain, as well as Dale the neighboring city (watch for the dwarf women, complete with beards!) and the coming of the dragon, Smaug (also Benedict Cumberbatch), which once again cements the film in the already visually established world of the first trilogy, and those folks at WETA continue to do amazing work.
Not only their work on Dale, but expanding what we’ve seen of dwarf culture, and hobbits and wizards, the level of detailing on clothes, armour, architecture, Middle Earth continues to be a completely realized world and one I would like to call home. That thought popped into my head as I watched Bilbo wander about Bag End, and I thought, I’d be happy there too…
And that will probably be why I keep going back, these films make me happy.
As I expected Howard Shore’s score is a fantastic accompaniment to the images on the screen, and I’m so glad I already knew some of the themes, and found myself humming along more than once.
The film looks beautiful, and one of my favorite shots is the eagles silhouetted against a morning sky, the cinematography we’ve come to expect from cameras in Middle Earth is well intact.
The two biggest surprises for me in this film were the clean-up song the dwarves sing as they tidy up after their feast at Bag End, and the rock giants, fighting in the misty mountains.
Would there be anything I would change… I didn’t care for Gorkil the Goblin King (Barry Humphries – Dame Edna), he didn’t seem vicious or threatening enough for me.
It was all the little moments that I really loved, Glamdring, Orcrist, Sting, bearded dwarf women, Bag End, the Ring, Rivendell, the troll’s fate…
And of course Gandalf. He’s always been one of my favorite characters and it was so great to see McKellan swathed in grey again, leaning on his staff.
The IMAX 3D experience was immersive, so much so that after a time I didn’t even notice or realize it anymore, so was it a necessary add-on, no, I don’t really think so. Our IMAX was only projecting the 24fps, and not the 48fps version, though I’m debating whether or not to track down a theater showing the 48…
For me, it was a great experience, and a welcome return to a place I love… but now of course is the long wait until Xmas next year, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.
Did you see it this weekend?
What did you think?