Before you read any further, know this: I am a massive Tolkien fan. If Gandalf the Grey arrived at my door and asked me to share in an adventure, I’d come with him right away, although I’d probably be just as frightened as poor Bilbo was when he set out with a company of Dwarves to take back Erebor from Smaug the dragon.
So… The Hobbit! At last, yes, I have seen it! That is, I have seen the first part of the trilogy. I was too late to get tickets to the HFR midnight screening, so I went to the regular 3D version instead. So rest assured, this review will not consist of a lot of talk about the new format but will focus on the film itself.
Let me start by saying that this is 100% a movie for fans of Tolkien’s books. It radiates pure Tolkien-ness and pure Hobbitness in every frame. In fact, compared to The Lord of the Rings, this film feels much more like it was made for the fans first and foremost and everybody else second. As a fan, that warms my heart greatly, but I can understand how casual moviegoers might find the extremely long first act a bit, well, long.
Of course, all of those people should just be quiet and go watch Skyfall or something, because for us Tolkien fans, this is pure heaven. In fact, in my personal opinion, this film manages to actually be better than the book.
Peter Jackson really doesn’t cut any corners here. Everything you could have wished for is in there, down to Gandalf mentioning the invention of the game of golf. The atmosphere of a younger, brighter, more innocent Middle-Earth is truly achieved to perfection. The vistas of Middle-Earth landscapes, the goblin caves and the mighty kingdom of Erebor are hugely atmospheric and gorgeous.
The humorous, fairy tale tone found in scenes like the three trolls is entirely maintained, while simultaneously slightly changing or adding elements that make it feel fresh. This ethos prevails throughout the nearly 3 hours of the movie.
Simultaneously, it is clear that “An Unexpected Journey” is the first part of a new trilogy, and there are some elements added that weren’t in the book that make it a bit more of a prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Radagast The Brown makes an extended appearance. He is a very silly figure and reminds us a bit of Tom Bombadil in a way. The goofiness of this character may throw some people off, but it’s actually pretty close to the style of humour that professor Tolkien himself favoured in his writing.
There is also a scene set in Rivendell where Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman meet up to discuss the possibility of a great evil returning to the world. The sense of foreboding, of this beautiful, untouched world possibly nearing its end, is achieved so subtly it is actually very powerful for anyone familiar with The Lord of the Rings.
It is very late in the film when Bilbo meets Gollum, but when this happens, the result is pure magic. Gollum’s dual personality is introduced in a way that is comical, creepy and deeply tragic all at once. I’m not going to spoil too much, but this entire episode is straight from Tolkien and it really, really works.
Since this whole movie is almost 3 hours long and only covers the first 120 pages or so of the book, a lot has been added to the film in order to provide some more depth to the characters. A lot of attention has been given to the Dwarvish culture, their proud heritage and their bitter losses. While most of the Dwarves still remain somewhat amorphous at this point, the character of Thorin Oakenshield is GREATLY enhanced. In the book, you get a sense of the proud and noble, somewhat gruff heir to the throne of Erebor. In the film, he is a genuinely powerful presence who carries a great weight on his shoulders, who is filled with bitter resentment and desperate determination. He has a personal grudge to settle with Azog, the Pale Orc, a very minor character briefly mentioned in the novel, now given a similar role as Lurtz, the Uruk-Hai commander who stalks the heroes in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo is actually insanely good. The first moment you see him, he is sitting on his porch smoking a pipe when Gandalf comes by. This scene plays out exactly as it does in the book, down to the many definitions of the phrase ‘good morning’. For fans, this is of course a huge treat. But the chemistry between Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Freeman’s Bilbo is absolutely exhilirating. Bilbo’s stiff Britishness and the way it gradually gives way to his more “Tookish’ side are handled with subtlety and grace.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a peculiar film. It’s a massive, special effects-laden $500 million production and yet it doesn’t feel like a Hollywood blockbuster at all. Neither does it feel like a traditional grand epic. It’s none of these things. It is the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, brought to life.
So what’s not to like? Well, as I’ve suggested earlier, the film is very long for the amount of story it actually covers from the book, so for non-fans, especially the early scenes in Bilbo’s Hobbit hole will probably feel like they take forever. To me, it’s pure bliss, but I’m a Tolkien fan who grew up on this stuff. I’ve been fantasising about the possibility of a film since I was 12. For me, this exceeds my expectations and my wildest dreams. It’s ridiculously gorgeous, filled with warmth and heart and character… And MIDDLE-EARTH. The fact that we have to wait a whole year for the second part is downright cruel! 🙂
I want to see it again! Now!