“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Review: A Successful, If Lesser, Return to Middle Earth

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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” Review: A Successful, If Lesser, Return to Middle Earth

By Wesley Emblidge

Martin Freeman in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

I was tired when I sat down for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” but excited nonetheless. The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy created one of the best-defined and most expansive universes in modern movie history, but managed to do so while still keeping an engaging story. Unfortunately for “The Hobbit,” it lacks the latter of those two elements, and left me wishing I had taken a nap in the middle of the movie, since chances are I wouldn’t have missed much.

Based on the first book J.R.R. Tolkien set in Middle Earth, “The Hobbit” follows Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm as the older Baggins and Martin Freeman, “Sherlock,” “Hot Fuzz,” as the younger) when he leaves the Shire to go on “an adventure” with a group of 13 dwarves and the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) in search of the dwarves’ homeland.

Middle Earth is as vibrant as ever, and director Peter Jackson takes advantage of all the new technology that’s available to him. A decade ago the films relied much more on real sets and makeup, and now with the advancement of CGI Jackson is able to full CGI sets and characters. However, he occasionally relies too heavily on it. Rivendell, for example, looks much different here than in the prior trilogy, because it’s almost completely CGI rather than actual sets. Jackson also uses 3D well, and introduces the new technology of HFR films (for thoughts on that, go here).

The entire cast is great, Freeman is perfect as Bilbo, and all the returning cast is fantastic as expected. The surprise standout is Richard Armitage as Thorin, the leader of the dwarves. He’s the only one of the dwarves whose character is developed, and Armitage brings a great amount of gravitas and strength to the role, managing to make a dwarf surprisingly badass.

However, in terms of storytelling, the film is a pretty huge mess. The book itself is fairly short, and this is only the first film in a trilogy based on that single book. Compare that to the previous trilogy, which did one long book per movie, and you get a sense of why this movie just feels relatively boring. It takes at least a half hour to even get Bilbo out of his house and on the road, and once he’s there the movie just becomes an endless series of scenes that have no consequences or effect on the film’s narrative whatsoever. It’s the same as the book, except for the fact that it’s only part of that story, rather than a full movie of it like we have here.

There are some really cool, fun action sequences, but they add absolutely nothing to the story. It almost feels like it would be better as a TV miniseries because of how episodic the whole thing is. The film runs nearly three hours, though could easily be cut in half (horrifyingly, there’s an extended cut in the works).

It certainly isn’t a bad film, the craft and scope alone make it worth seeing, but it lacks the stakes and story that made the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy so engrossing. I do look forward to the next two films, because I see where the story may be going, and this feels like it could just be the weakest of the three.

 

3.5/5 Stars