The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
- Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
- Ian McKellen as Gandalf
- Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
- James Nesbitt as Bofur
- Ken Stott as Balin
- Aidan Turner as Kíli
- Dean O’Gorman as Fíli
- Sylvester McCoy as Radagast
- Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
- Hugo Weaving as Elrond
- Andy Serkis as Gollum
- Christopher Lee as Saruman
- Ian Holm as Older Bilbo
- Elijah Wood as Frodo
Peter Jackson takes us back to Middle Earth after directing the hugely successful and critically praised Lord of the Rings trilogy for another adventure. And while it doesn’t quite live up to the sheer majesty of the Lord of the Rings, An Unexpected Journey is still a welcome return to the magical world of fantasy and adventure that takes us back to the beginning to bring the other stories full circle.
Returning to the bucolic Shire region of the vast lands of Middle Earth, we are introduced to a young Bilbo Baggins. He is an organised Hobbit who never wants any trouble to speak of and goes about his life as peacefully as he can. This doesn’t go exactly to plan when the wise wizard Gandalf turns up on his doorstep with an offer of adventure and peril. Gandalf tries to convince Bilbo to help Thorin Oakenshield, a king of the dwarves whose homeland, mainly the Lonely Mountain is inhabited by the fierce dragon Smaug, that closely guards their gold. Along with twelve dwarves for company as well as Gandalf, Thorin plans to reclaim what is his by birth. Bilbo is very reluctant to join this dangerous quest even though Gandalf believes in him, but ultimately changes his mind and travels with the company over Middle Earth. Yet this journey is going to be far from easy with the likes of orcs, wargs, goblins, shadowy figures and the creature Gollum haunting every step of the way as caves, dales and kingdoms come into view. As the journey continues and the band of heroes are further aided by elves(much to the chagrin of Thorin, who resents them for leaving his kingdom to fall when he believes they could have been of aid), Bilbo begins to discover a courage and strength within himself that he never knew was there as the group travels through peril and turmoil.
I’ll start this analysis of the movie with what didn’t work for me as it was in some parts a flawed movie. I’ll be sure to move on to the numerous positives once I’ve spoken of the negatives. Firstly, I found the pace of the film to be an issue, especially with the first half that really took a while to get going. I get that it is an epic film, but for the beginning it felt like a long slog. Thankfully, once the quest was underway, the pace picked up and it started to flow smoothly again. I think this issue of the movie taking a while to get going stems from the decision to split one book into three adaptations and this one being the first. Hopefully, with the next two the story can run smoother. As much as I don’t mind CGI(I mean it’s a fantasy film so it’s got to have some in it), An Unexpected Journey overuses it and it sometimes takes you out of the film, unlike with Lord of the Rings which did use CGI, but made it seamless and not excessive. That’s not to say some of the effects aren’t good,it just feels a bit too much for my liking. And the final negative is that while the ensemble cast is great, when it comes to the dwarves their personalities seem to merge because there is so many of them. Only Thorin and a few others are really given distinct characteristics and things to do.
Moving on, we have the positives of An Unexpected Journey of which there are many. Peter Jackson is back and knows exactly how to capture the attention with his eye for stunning detail. Once more, the locations are out of this world in their glorious splendour, capturing a sense of adventure and expansive mythology that is hard to shake. There’s something very thrilling and comforting about returning to some of the locations and also reinstating many well-known characters that Rings fans will be familiar with, as well as introducing other ones that take on significance as the story goes on. And when An Unexpected Journey hits its stride in terms of the pace, the results are stunning to behold as Bilbo joins the band of dwarves on their dangerous quest. Some astounding set pieces are shown throughout this movie, from the cave of Goblins to the chase from the wargs which are both highlights. Howard Shore, who is one of my favourite composers, contributes a wonderfully exciting and dynamic score that brings a brimming sense of fun and danger.
As the hobbit of the title, Martin Freeman is a joy to watch as Bilbo. Starting out as rigid and not in the least bit interested in adventure, he amusingly and professionally charts Bilbo’s transformation into a spirited member of the team and one with depths he didn’t know were there. The ever impressive Ian McKellen is also on fine form as the extremely wise and mighty wizard Gandalf, returning to the Middle Earth movies. Exuding sagacious behaviour, inspiring confidence and a little twinkle in his eye, McKellen is nothing short of wonderful. I was really pleased with the performance from Richard Armitage as the vengeful dwarf king Thorin. He plays him exceedingly well with the right mix of stubborn pride, anger and ferocity all needed for the character. From the many dwarves involved in the film, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner and Dean O’Gorman stand out with their quirky idiosyncrasies and abundance of charm. Sylvester McCoy plays the part of the unusual wizard Radagast, who is at one with nature and takes care of it whenever it is under threat. McCoy imbues the part with a strange sense of humour and eccentric tics that allow him to steal many scenes along the way. Returning once more are Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving as the elves Galadriel and Elrond. These two once again bring effortless poise, grace and stunning wisdom to these ethereal beings. The highly talented Andy Serkis also returns as the demented and suffering creature Gollum. With the right blend of believable CGI and the unusual delivery from Serkis, Gollum comes alive once more with frightening intensity and a sense of sheer torment that everyone knows the cause of. Christopher Lee is imperious as ever playing Saruman, who feels that the journey could well be in vain and that it is a foolish undertaking. The two cameos from Ian Holm as older Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo are a very nice touch.
There are flaws along the way, mainly from the slow beginning that stretches the plot a bit thin and an overload of CGI, but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a more the welcome return back to a world of magic and wonder. I mean any journey back to the immersive lands of Middle Earth is better than no journey at all, isn’t it?