Undoubtedly one of the most anticipated films of the year, here’s my suggestion to you as an avid fan of The Lord of the Rings trilogy: as you enter the theater to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey leave your expectations outside of the doors and wander in with zero preconceptions of the film.
Which means… do not walk in expecting The Lord of the Rings, you won’t get it, and if that’s the mindset you’re walking in with, be prepared to be let down. This isn’t the trilogy from ten years ago, this is something entirely new altogether, and for the most part, it’s a wonderful ride.
If you’re wondering about the 48 frames, here’s the deal: I thought it was a wonderful new insight into the world of movies and a way of filmmaking that breaks the mold of one hundred years of cinema. In certain moments, it created some of the most beautiful scenes I’ve seen on film, and it clicked why Peter Jackson would opt for this style. Yet, in other scenes (such as the opening), it was just plain jarring. Take that as you will, and decide for yourself what seems like the best option to you.
Let’s get the faults out of the way here and now and before anyone bites my head off for speaking poorly of a movie with such a fanbase, give me a second.
The movie begins with not one, but two prologues, and this decidedly sets the pace for the first hour or so: it’s slow. For the first part of the film, I was worried. The narration spent too much time in the Shire, as nice as it was to be given a chance to explore it once more. The script by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens seemed to lack clarity and bumbled along, trying to string together as many plot points as they could in the first hour, all the while allowing the action to become stalemate. The pacing however, picks up considerably around that one hour mark, so much so, that by the end of the movie I’m so enamored by what transgressed that I had forgotten the lackluster beginning.
The second major fault is that of the new character, Radagast the Brown, who travels about on a sleigh pulled by rabbits. For anyone who’s heard the Jar Jar Binks comparison, believe it. He’s a useless character, used only to allow exposition on what’s going to transpire over the next two films about darkness falling over Middle Earth.
Despite the troubling beginning, there is more than enough positives to carry the film through, and I’m happy to announce that Radagast doesn’t take up too much screen time.
There a couple of components that make this film a must-see.
The cast truly is great, even with many being shuffled to the side and failing to make emotional connections to the audience, due to their limited screen time. Richard Armitage as Thorin, the leader of the gang, plays the warrior dwarf with graceful ferocity, which allows the audience to believe that he deserves to be followed. Aidan Turner, who plays the “pretty one” with a humorous temperament as Kili is the only other notable dwarf. Ian McKellen is back and wonderful as ever, allowed more fun as an elongated performance of Gandalf the Grey (who we can all agree is more interesting than Gandalf the White). McKellen showcases a charisma and physicality that allows one to forget the actor’s age. This brings us to Martin Freeman as Bilbo, the titular character, who now after seeing him perform explains why Jackson fought for him. The likeliness to Ian Holm is uncanny, and it’s in his quieter, somber moments that allow us the greatest insight to his talent and potential over the next two films.
No matter the pitfalls and stumbling of the first portion of the film, the second half more than makes up for it with a rousing and emotionally impactful, action-filled finale. There’s the reappearance of old favorites, a game of riddles and a battle with the Troll King. The scene between Gollum and Bilbo being the most noteworthy and the one that allows a real character driven moment. The stop motion CGI used on Andy Serkis as Gollum has vastly improved over the past ten years, and it wasn’t too shabby to begin with. It’s a testament to Serkis as an actor that no matter the grievances he commits in the future of this story, there’s still a great amount of not only pity but sympathy for this lost and lonely creature.
More than anything else, this film is a success due to Peter Jackson’s tireless vision. Jackson has created a world with such calculated nuance and beauty that we don’t question it. It isn’t a matter of suspension of disbelief but rather an awareness and accepted fact of the world of Middle Earth. As we’re reacquainted with the Shire in the opening notes of the film with Howard Shores score using a good mix of ingenuity and nostalgia, we return to it with open familiarity. When we see the vast, majesty that is Rivendell, rather than balk at the absurdity of such a place existing, we smile and nod along because we’ve seen it before and are waiting for the faces of those of whom who inhabit it. Jackson has gone further than just simply putting literature onscreen; he’s taken this intricate and expansive world created by J.R.R. Tolkien and with innovation and passion has turned it into a reality. This film is very much so the bare-bones outline of what’s to come, the precursor to the real heart of the story, and what this film did has made me excited.
This film is not without its faults, but it makes up for it with the mastery of the art form that allows disillusionment to drop and for bright eyed wonder to take its place. It’s Jackson’s eye for such cinematic forms of storytelling that allows the story the depth it needs to get over the stalled narrative of the script and the insipid humor of the first hour. As Gandalf the Grey says to Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, “He gives me hope”. And Jackson does, in staggering heights. Is it his best outing in terms of storytelling? No, but in terms of world building he’s close. We don’t ask questions about Middle Earth, we simply embrace the familiarity of the New Zealand skyline and mountains, the eagles and the wargs, the hobbits, elves, wizards and dwarves. Welcome back, Middle Earth, Peter Jackson and co., I can’t wait to see what you do next.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey hits theaters Friday, December 14th.