Like many people, I have been looking forward to the release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey all year. When I first watched The Fellowship of the Ring, I was absolutely mesmerized by the sheer monumentality and grand scale of its narrative and cinematography. The Hobbit relies a little less on epic cinematography and instead focuses on building an overarching narrative, as all of the stories emerge from this original point.
The film commences with the older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) reminiscing upon his adventurous past, realizing that he has many secrets to share with his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood), on the eve of his Eleventy-First birthday party. He recalls his first encounter with Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellan), and all of a sudden we are back sixty years with a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) leisurely smoking his pipe. Gandalf invites Bilbo, a respectable Baggins, to join thirteen dwarves and himself as a “burglar” to help the dwarves reclaim their wealth and kingdom from a greedy dragon, Smaug. Bilbo considers himself much too ordinary, domesticated, and respectable for such an endeavor, but he somehow feels drawn towards this treacherous adventure.
The Hobbit struck an interesting balance between witty humor and dramatic conflict. Thorin (Richard Armitage), the King of the Dwarves, aims to restore their kingdom and wealth for his people. He lends a dramatic aspect to the rest of the merry Dwarves, who truly embrace life and even their awkward burglar, despite their state of nomadism and non-belonging. While the trailer focuses on the dramatic aspect of their quest, especially with the baritone rendition of “the Song of the Lonely Mountain,” The Hobbit decidedly portrays their quest in a lighter manner, often imbuing the Dwarves with scenes of slapstick humor and music. It’s an absolute delight to watch the dwarves’ infectious merriment and cheer.
The film successfully portrays Bilbo’s gradual maturation and emotional development. Initially a homebody, he realizes that he has led a privileged life all along and learns to care about the horrible injustices outside the cheery bubble of his neighborhood. Martin Freeman, best known for The Office and most recently BBC’s Sherlock gives a fantastic and convincing performance as the agreeable, clever, and often under-appreciated Bilbo. His character starts to blossom as he faces Gollum in an intense game of riddles. We see another side of Bilbo’s character, someone who is resourceful enough to negotiate and utilize his wit and learning, rather than swordsmanship, to navigate his way out of danger.
I have never appreciated Gandalf as much as I did in this movie, as he exudes leadership and charisma to ground this film in both sincerity and warmth. He acts as a mediator for so many conflicts, between the dwarves and elves and even between the dwarves (particularly Thorin) and Bilbo. The script imbues Gandalf with superhuman qualities as a mentor, mediator, and warrior so that one cannot imagine The Hobbit without this pivotal character. His acute perception fills him with a sense of premonition that their quest has stirred eerie forces that have been germinating over the years. This eerie element of foreboding will undoubtedly amplify as the trilogy progresses.
Audiences may find themselves walking down memory lane as they re-encounter familiar places and characters on screen. Many scenes hold comforting allusions to the first trilogy, which I appreciated because it has been a long time since I’ve watched or read the trilogy. Although having too many action scenes in a row can feel repetitive and more like a chore, each of the subplots contributed to the overarching narrative of fleeing the Dwarves’ long time enemy, the Pale Orc, and their journey towards the Lonely Mountain. The film concentrated much of its exposition at the very beginning with its use of flashback and voiceover. My only suggestion for improvement is to more evenly distribute its action-packed scenes with the exposition, dialogue, and character development so that the script could feel a little bit more balanced.
Some occurrences and characters have been embellished and dramatized to complement the sensational and action-packed LOTR trilogy. While The Hobbit feels in some way more like a family adventure film than the first trilogy does, it is still too violent and intense for young children to watch. Fans of The Lord of the Rings should definitely watch this first installment of the second trilogy, keeping in mind that it may not be as gargantuan and monumental as the first trilogy but is charming and endearing in its own way. Teens and adults who love high fantasy and action will enjoy this movie.