The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a new trilogy from Peter Jackson, director of the wonderful Lord of the Rings trilogy. While The Hobbit’s first installment is good, it doesn’t come near the level of any of the LOTR films, perhaps because they set the bar too high. Also problematic is that Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” is a much shorter novel than his follow-up “The Lord of the Rings” and probably doesn’t need three films to tell the story as Tolkien wrote it.
The tale is told in flashback as the now elderly “Bilbo Baggins” (Holm) is a hobbit writing a memoir of sorts about his adventures when he was young. The memoir is for “Frodo” (Wood), the cousin Bilbo adopted. We then see the young Bilbo (Freeman) as he is living in his home in the Shire. The wizard “Gandalf” drops in to visit and soon dwarves start showing up to gather for a meeting. Eventually Gandalf and the dwarves convince Frodo to join their quest to regain control of Erebor, their kingdom. The dwarves were forced from their kingdom by the arrival of Smaug, a dragon that coveted the massive amount of gold within the city of the dwarves located inside a mountain.
Bilbo, “Thorin” (Armitage) who is the leader of the dwarves and grandson of the slain King Thror, and the other dwarves encounter trolls, orcs, and other hazards on their journey and because this is a trilogy, it’s safe to assume that they will not reach Erebor before the end of this first installment. But they do encounter a number of hazards and make some very interesting finds. We are also introduced to “Gollum” (Serkis) and in Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, the hobbit comes into possession of a certain ring that contains great power and danger.
Visually this is a stunning film. The high speed version is incredibly sharp and detailed. Almost too much so. Jackson has a way of integrating close-up and panoramic scenes that are wonderful to watch. He also gives us very satisfying action sequences that aren’t gratuitous but drive the points of the plot forward.
However, die-hard fans of Tolkien’s works will not be happy with what’s been done to his novel in order to create a trilogy. Characters that weren’t in the novel are present in the film, supposedly done in the “spirit of Tolkien”. In point of fact, Tolkien made changes to his original work as he was working on “The Lord of the Rings” and they were incorporated into later published versions of “The Hobbit”. If he wanted to transition those characters from the latter novel to the former, he would have done so. Clearly he did not.
That doesn’t make The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey unenjoyable or bad film. It is. It just isn’t what it might have been, had Jackson and company hewed more closely to Tolkien’s own modified vision and left well enough alone.