Hobbit-1I understand that this film is a good month old now, but I only managed to catch it last week, and I know how you all value my opinion so greatly (ahem), so here I am finally with my verdict on Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth. I have been rather skeptical about The Hobbit since it was announced that instead of receiving the proposed two films, we were in fact going to get an entire new trilogy set within J.R.R. Tolkien’s rich and wondrous world. I am still very worried about the third film in this trilogy, as I can picture it being practically exposition filler  between this trilogy and the Lord of the Rings, not having enough grounds to justify itself as a film on its own accord. I understand the intrigue in seeing more of Tolkien’s world bought to the screen, but if it is at the cost of pacing and a structurally sound film, then I do not agree. However, on evidence of this first installment in the trilogy, I should hold my hopes high and put a little more faith in Jackson to deliver a pure cinematic experience. That’s not saying I will though.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey introduces the tale of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who reluctantly joins a band of dwarfs on an epic quest to the Lonely Mountain in order to reclaim their homeland and treasure from the evil dragon Smaug. Led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the merry band of Dwarves are out to reclaim their homeland Erebor; a grand kingdom for of the Dwarves, in which Thorin is the rightful heir. Following the advice of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), the Dwarves descend upon the home of the unwitting Bilbo. Initially reluctant to the Dwarf’s request to be their honorary burglar, Bilbo cannot pass up the chance to embark upon an adventure and see the world beyond his own front door. The task will not be easy, as the group are faced with many aTHE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY peril including Trolls, Goblins and a trope of Orcs led by Azog the Defiler, who has a personal vendetta against Thorin. Also, an encounter within the Misty Mountains sees Bilbo come into possession of a certain trinket  that will change his fate forever.

From the very opening of An Unexpected Journey, I was instantly wrapped up once again in the wonderful world of Tolkien. Jackson brightens the aesthetics of Middle-Earth (quite fittingly for the more whimsical sensibilities of The Hobbit) and opens the film in terrific style; an exciting and action-packed epilogue displaying the fate of the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor. I did not quite expect to be thrust back into the world in such wonderful fashion from the very start, with Howard  Shore’s score acting as a tool to send the nostalgia surging through you. After this stunning epilogue, the film does begin to dip somewhat in its pacing, which has somewhat of a damaging effect on this first installment. The inclusion of Frodo (Elijah Wood) within the opening is incredibly distracting to the momentum of the story and seems very out of place, as logically it would make more sense to have this bridging scene between The Fellowship of the Ring at the end of the last installment of this trilogy. It also doesn’t help that Wood himself sounds radically different since we last saw him as the character and it feels jarring for both the film and its relationship with LOTR.

The main issue with this film is in it’s pacing, mainly following its impressive epilogue. The introduction to the Dwarves is essentially and rather enjoyable as we begin to see the interplay between the various characters, yet there are scenes away from the whole group between characters which feel like they belong in an extended edition; something which we could choose to indulge in with LOTR, while with this, it feels as if we are already being served over-indulgence. Jackson’s pacing in these early moments of exposition rather frustratingly builds up the anticipation for the adventure to begin, yet there are some rather nice moments within these scenes, mostly due to the company of the Dwarves. It is a delight to hear ‘That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates’ and ‘The Misty Mountains’ folk songs quite literally word for word from Tolkien’s source material. However, the film really finds its feet once our heroes embark upon their quest. From there on out, An Unexpected Journey becomes yet another rousing adventure in Middle-Earth.

hobbit-3Following his recent hiccup with the visually beautiful but disappointing adaptation of The Lovely Bones, it’s refreshing to see Jackson hit his stride in familiar territory so easily, delivering  bombastic action along with the visual splendor that we’ve come to expect from this world of magic and mythology. There are a number of sequences that would stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best scenes of the LOTR trilogy; the sequences in the Misty Mountain are pure escapist cinema. We see stone giants wage battle, an onslaught of Goblin warriors and in possibly the greatest scene of character within the entire franchise so far, we witness the riddles in the dark between Bilbo and Gollum. That scene in particular highlights Jackson’s ease and apparent effortlessness with the material, the world and its characters. No one quite understands this world like Jackson does, bringing a wonderful sense of magic and child-like glee that allows An Unexpected Journey to stand as a separate entity to LOTR while still firmly in its world. The colour palette is much brighter, as the world is yet to be gripped by the evil of the returning power of Sauron, resulting in a beautifully shot film with a whimsical spirit at heart.

One of the most successful elements of this film is within its characters. Unfortunately the Dwarfs do very much get lost in the shuffle (what with their being 13 of them and all), but the ones we pay special attention to are greatly drawn out, in particular Richard Armitage as Thorin, filling the Aragorn void well and truly whilst putting in a suitably tough performance as the loyal and rather short-tempered leader of the company. Andy Serkis thoroughly effortlessly and gleefully slips back into the role of Gollum to allow the Riddles in the Dark sequence to truly stand out as a piece of acting class as well as an attuned and perfect showcase of motion-capture technology. McKellen is of course ever dependable, but the real star of the film is the utterly charming Martin Freeman as good old old Bilbo Baggins. Freeman is a delight in the role, one that it would seem he was born to play. Gone is the mopey whinging of Elijah Wood’s Frodo (my least favourite character of the universe) and in his place is an incredibly likeable, refreshingly human and funny unlikely hero. He is unashamedly modest and it is a modesty that exudes from Freeman himself; his natural personality forming a truly THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEYmemorable and brilliant cinematic portrayal of a favourite child-hood literary character.

With many elements still to be fully exploited, both of which involve a certain Mr. Cumberbatch still await the sequels, which could very well stretch into two more films. I only hope now that the adventure is up and running that the pacing because less of an issue, with Jackson taking note of the criticisms that his film has received. Jackson is fantastic at creating world’s and injecting them with a unique visual aesthetic, but he is a terrible self-editor. This film could have easily clocked in at the trimmer run-time of two hours, maybe slightly over, but Jackson fails to be able to see what is worth leaving on the cutting room floor, and the film truly does suffer as a result. However, this is a much stronger start then I anticipated, and just spending time in this world once again on the big screen is truly second to none in terms of cinematic escapism. I shall remain rather skeptical in relation to the three-film decision (heck, I’ll probably still be unsure this time next year), but I do hope that the next two installments pleasantly surprise me in a similar fashion to this installment. Because it truly is good to be back.

4/5- Despite its quite damaging pacing issues; An Unexpected Journey is a rousing and visual stunning epic with a pleasingly whimsical spirit, a fantastic performance from Martin Freeman and all the sheer epic-ness you’d expect from a return to Middle-Earth. It’s almost as if we never left.