The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Peter Jackson – 2012
All Tolkien fans, old and new, had one thing on their mind after the release of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003: when do we get the Hobbit? J.R.R Tolkien wrote and released The Hobbit over a decade before The Lord of the Rings and follows the story of Frodo’s uncle Bilbo as he goes on a quest with a group of Dwarves to reclaim their kingdom at the Lonely Mountain which had been taken years ago by the dragon Smaug. If this sounds like a fairy tale, it’s because it mostly is. It’s mythic in arc and written primarily for children. In that lies the chief problem with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – this is a children’s story, and Peter Jackson tried to make it into an adult’s film.
As mentioned above, the story is about a hobbit named Bilbo. One day, a wizard named Gandalf shows up at his door asking if he would like to take part in an adventure. Despite declining the invitation, later that night a group of 13 dwarves arrive at Bilbo’s house with Gandalf and are talking of a grand quest to reclaim the homeland which had been stolen from them. After declining initially, Bilbo runs off to join the team. On the way they face trolls, orcs, goblins and come across friendly elves who help them on their way.
There is a lot to love in this film. The performances, to start, are excellent. Many who saw the BBC series Sherlock and knew Martin Freeman as John Watson were unsure of his suitability to the character of Bilbo. Just thinking of comparing him and Ian Holm (who plays old Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings) worried many of us. Friends, be not afraid, Freeman sells us on the character of Bilbo in every way and shows just how diverse his talents are. Where in Sherlock he is quite reserved and polite, here he has more confidence in his abilities and his character arc allows for a transformation into a courageous hero that we can all root for. Richard Armitage plays the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. The best way to describe his character is a mix between Sean Bean’s and Viggo Mortensen’s characters from the Lord of the Rings. Wise yet stubborn, strong yet bullish, Thorin Oakenshield is a great character and Armitage plays him wonderfully.
Returning from The Lord of the Rings were Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Lord Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Lady Galadriel, and Christopher Lee as Saruman the White. Seeing those faces in the scene they are in together is fun for fans of the Lord of the Rings because they had never been together in that series, and here you can see the personalities clashing as you imagine they would’ve. The best returning performance though was Andy Serkis as the creature Gollum. His famous scene in the Hobbit is where Bilbo finds the ring of power after Gollum has dropped it and then the two engage in a game of riddles in the dark where if Bilbo wins he can leave and if he loses he gets eaten. For anyone who has read The Hobbit, this was the scene they were waiting for. It was funny, creepy, intense, and exactly what every fan was waiting for.
Aside from performances, the special effects were excellent. Considering the amount of monstrous creatures, more special effects were needed for this film than for The Lord of the Rings, and they were incredibly good. The highlights were obviously Gollum (who looked more real than he did in the Lord of the Rings) and the Great Goblin who, while gross, was terrifying in the way the villain from a kids movie can be. The one down side to the CGI was the leader of a pack of orcs chasing the Dwarves. In the Lord of the Rings all of the orcs were actors in makeup, and this gave the film a really gritty realistic atmosphere. Many of the orcs in the Hobbit were entirely CGI and this gave the film a more cartoony feeling.
This leads into the two big complaints with The Hobbit: the cinematography and who the film should have been directed at. The film was shot in 48 frames per second which is twice the number of frames used for most of the history of film. The effect that this can give is one of looking sped up or choppy, an effect that I am susceptible to and thus I decided to see the film in 24fps. While normal looking, the biggest problem with the 48fps filming was still evident. Any time the camera moved, everything in frame would get blurry. This was incredibly distracting and a huge knock on the film as a whole.
Finally, Peter Jackson has fallen far from his great direction of the Lord of the Rings. While it is a very interesting and entertaining narrative, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and I fear the other three films, are taking a Children’s story and trying to turn it into and adult’s film. Unfortunately, it makes the scenes there to delight and amaze children feel corny while simultaneously making the terrifying CGI creatures and daunting mood feel heavy handed. While a very good film overall, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey leaves many things to be desired. I hope that Peter Jackson takes notice of some of the concerns raised when he is constructing the other two instalments in The Hobbit film series. If he does, I could see them getting Best Picture nominations since this one won’t be.