‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ Review: It’s good to be back

For those moviegoers longing to return to Tolkien’s Middle-earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey offers a satisfying adventure within the same world of The Lord of the Rings, but certainly has a different story to tell.

Let’s get the obligatory point out of the way: this is NOT The Lord of the Rings.

Although The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place in the same world with many of the same characters, this story is at a completely different time in those characters’ lives (predating Frodo Baggins’ adventure by 60 years) and the world in which they live has not yet descended into the overwhelming darkness growing in The Fellowship of the Ring, the first part in director Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

This tale is about Bilbo Baggins, Frodo’s uncle, who embarks on his first journey with a company of 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield looking to reclaim their stolen homeland from the treacherous dragon, Smaug. A familiar wizard, Gandalf the Grey, helps to organize this journey and nominates a reluctant Bilbo to act as the company’s “burglar” for when they encounter the dragon, since apparently Smaug will not recognize a hobbit’s scent as much as a dwarf’s. Gandalf sees remarkable and helpful characteristics within hobbits that even Bilbo does not quite understand yet, which also hearkens back (or shall we say, forward) to his faith in the hobbit Frodo in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

As An Unexpected Journey takes place in the same setting as Lord of the Rings with similar characters, I see no harm in comparing the two trilogies as the film draws such parallels itself with similar musical themes (in addition to a new, beautiful score by Howard Shore), references to the previous trilogy’s characters and events (Elijah Wood reprising his role as Frodo Baggins; Ian Holm once again suiting up as the elder Bilbo), and creating the same scenery to help with continuity. This all is undoubtedly enhanced thanks to Peter Jackson returning as director with a veteran production team and the actors all playing the same parts. However, as far as the story goes, they are two very different tales.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

This story can be considered a prequel of sorts because it takes place before the events of The Lord of the Rings, but it focuses on a completely different adventure with many different characters. Martin Freeman perfectly embodies Bilbo Baggins by portraying his stubbornness, his naïveté, his compassion, and his courage all while being completely genuine. He never fails to be dwarfed (that was too hard to resist) by the large company of newcomers with whom he travels, always standing out and above the rest with his sweet disposition and invaluable impressionability. When I first read the book, I did not find book Bilbo nearly as likable as film Bilbo, so much of the credit must be given to Freeman and his portrayal.

As far as the other characters go, not too many stood out for me after my initial viewing. Since I already have a background knowledge of many characters in the film (i.e. Gandalf, Bilbo, Galadriel, Lord Elrond, Sauroman, and Gollum), my love for them clearly overshadowed the newcomers. Aside from the main dwarf Thorin, not much character development occcured for the others, so I believe it will take all three films for me to truly end up caring about each of their stories and fates. This may have to do with the pacing, as this is only the first in a three-part series, or perhaps it’s the source material; but I wish I cared about more of them than I did.

The plot feels rather slow in this film despite all of the perilous encounters, which may also be in part because this is the first in a trilogy; however, I do hope there is enough material to go on so the other two do not drag on as much as An Unexpected Journey. More times than not the first film in a trilogy is the slowest, since it needs to set up the rest of the story. Nevertheless, some scenes could definitely have been trimmed. The CGI also seemed a bit overdone, making the film seem a bit more fantastical than it needed to be. Although Lord of the Rings might have been able to benefit from more advanced technology, An Unexpected Journey probably could have done with a bit less to help keep it grounded.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Overall, An Unexpected Journey is pretty much what I had expected. A moviegoer who might not have read much about the film beforehand may be disappointed by the lack of doom, gloom, and action, but I certainly was enthralled in my return to Middle-earth. This film does not take itself as seriously as The Lord of the Rings, making it the most refreshingly entertaining, witty, yet just as epic tale of loyalty, trust, and courage that one can possibly hope for in the beginning of a three-part fantasy adventure series.

Also, a film can never have too much Gollum.

Photo: Warner Bros.

Photo: Warner Bros.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Grade: B+

The second part in the trilogy, The Desolation of Smaug, will hit theaters on Dec. 13, 2013, while the finale, There and Back Again, will release on July 18, 2014.

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2 thoughts on “‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ Review: It’s good to be back

  1. I’ve been going back and forth about seeing this. I never really got into LotR, though I’ve seen all three films. This sounds like it has a different vibe to it altogether though, so I’m wondering if I might enjoy it more.

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