Daring, charming, and epic in scope The Hobbit is High Fantasy the likes of which Hollywood rarely does well. The first movie in the prequel trilogy to the very successful Lord of the Rings is every bit as faithful to the source, and unashamedly more immature in its story telling. Be warned, this is true fantasy however, absent of the maturity that make Rings so popular with any audience. If the critical reaction to date is anything to go by then its larger appeal will undoubtedly be debated for some time.
The Hobbit tells the story of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, roped into an epic adventure. The Dwarven city of Erebor has been captured by Smaug, a dragon. A small company of Dwarves along with the wizard Gandalf have set out to recapture the city and its hordes of gold , but to do so they need the services of a burglar. For unknown reasons Gandalf has chosen Bilbo and thus the tale begins. It’s a story that is both a stand alone adventure and one that establishes how the The One Ring came to be in Bilbo’s possession.
An Unexpected Journey runs at roughly two hours and forty-five minutes covering only the first six chapters of the book. It manages to fill up its running time by reveling in every detail and expanding upon it by exploring the wider story as it relates to the events in Lord of the Rings. It’s the kind of detail you don’t need if you didn’t know the events of Rings, but seeing as most people now do, the additions do a nice job of tying the two movie trilogies together.
The film has been slammed for being too long, if you’re not in love with the source material then you’ll feel that it’s roughly thirty minutes too long. But the crime is not as great as the drawn out ending of Return of the King, at least the “extra” material comes at the start, so by the end of the film you’re not feeling its running time at all. Regardless, it doesn’t make the movie bad, not at all.
It’s an astounding achievement to bring this story to life in all its glory. The locations of Erebor, Rivendell, The Goblin City, and a host of others feel authentic and magical at the same time. The gorgeous New Zealand landscapes are again the perfect place to put Middle Earth. There is much more Fantasy this time round. It’s thick, and fast! Swords have names and the enemy cower at their sight, Elves ride giant Elk, and the Dwarven kings wear more bling than a modern day hip-hop artist. It’s also thick with the childish fun of the book, but it never quite becomes absurd and it’s always enjoyable.
Martin Freeman is a delight as Bilbo, he is as believable as the Hobbit as you could expect and his timing is impeccable. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf and he is just as good as I remember, while Richard Armitage makes a noble leader of the Dwarves. The rest of the ensemble cast are adequate, but they never quite fill out with the depth of the ensemble in Fellowship of the Ring. The real star however is again Andy Serkis as Gollum, he steals the show when he arrives. I really hope the Academy can find a way to reward him, he’s crafted one of the most memorable characters of all time.
I thoroughly enjoyed this film for its entire running time. I loved that it took the time to revel in the little things, a theme of the story, and that it wasn’t ashamed of its Fantastical elements. The film never quite reaches the emotional peaks of Fellowship of the Rings for me, even though it follows it format quite exactly. I appreciate this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but The Hobbit always was a small but fun children’s book. This is likely the best film adaption we’ll ever get, and considering the way the Tolkien estate regards films this trilogy is likely to be the last Tolkien films made in our lifetimes.