PG Cooper: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Posted: December 30, 2012 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

o-THE-HOBBIT-POSTER-570*Editor’s note: The film was seen in 2D, 24 FPS

I was never very excited to see Peter Jackson return to Middle-Earth. As much as I love Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was just going back to the well. After his post Rings films became less and less successful, it looked like Jackson just wanted to go back to the safe and familiar. The trailers did even less to convince me otherwise, and the fact that most of the people who love An Unexpected Journey are also fans of the novel didn’t help either since I’ve never read any of Tolkien’s work. Still, with all the talent behind it, I had faith An Unexpected Journey would be competent if nothing else, and I also felt obliged as a reviewer to see it given the size of the film.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) 60 years before Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo is a mild-mannered hobbit enjoying his simple and mundane life in The Shire. On one seemingly normal day, Bilbo is greeted by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), the great and powerful wizard. During a fairly tense discussion, Gandalf decides Bilbo will be the perfect hobbit to join the quest of thirteen dwarves trying to take back their home from the dragon Smaug. Bilbo initially rejects the offer, but finds the prospect of adventure exciting and decides to join their quest. Bilbo finds that not only will his journey be unforgettable, but he will unknowingly put events into motion that will threaten all of Middle-Earth.

The Hobbit is a much more light hearted adventure than the Rings trilogy. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, but it does create problems here. For one, the stakes aren’t nearly as high in An Unexpected Journey as they were in The Lord of the Rings. Everything that happens almost feels arbitrary when compared to the massive scale of future events. This could have been ignored, but The Hobbit frequently (and obviously) alludes to the events of the Rings trilogy. I wanted to look at The Hobbit’s story on its own terms, but the film wouldn’t let me. It doesn’t help that Jackson tries to mix epic battles and violence with scenes of intended comedy, such as trolls blowing their snot on Bilbo. There’s also some downright goofy material here such as the dwarves’ physical comedy and the entire character of Radagast.

Even at 2 hours and 45 minutes, the film does not make good use of its runtime. The first hour drags tremendously with no sense of urgency. After leaving The Shire, things start to pick up as the plot begins to really kick in, but the problems don’t stop. The various stories feel slapped together and the film frequently loses sight of its goals. For example, despite being titled The Hobbit, Bilbo isn’t actually all that important for large chunks of the film. One kind of forgets about him to the point that when the story shifts back to his perspective it’s a little jarring. Part of this stems from the story being split into three films, which has led to An Unexpected Journey feeling insubstantial. It’s also irritating that despite coming close to three hours, very few of the characters are developed. Most of the dwarves are completely indistinguishable, except for the fat ginger one and the group’s leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). In fact, of the new characters introduced, Thorin is the only one I actually like. I didn’t really care about most of the dwarves and felt no suspense when they were in danger.

I did like Martin Freeman as Bilbo. He had good charisma and humour, fit what Ian Holm did, and I liked his arc. I am worried what will be of Bilbo in future instalments since he seems to have completed his arc already. Some of the other cast members I had a more mixed reaction to. Most of the dwarves are bland and one-dimensional, with the exception of Thorin, and the villains range from lame to forgettable. And as much as I enjoy Ian McKellen as Gandalf, the writing made it come off like he had conned Bilbo into helping the dwarves instead of encouraging Bilbo like we were led to believe in Fellowship. I also didn’t like how many times Gandalf’s magic got the characters out of trouble. It felt like a crutch to get the protagonists out of danger. Most of the Rings alumni cameos are a bit distracting too. Most are part of the story, but every time one of the characters appeared it felt like the movie stopped to say, “Here’s the character you know from Lord of the Rings! Cool, right?”

There is however, one performance I have no complaints with, and that would be Andy Serkis as Gollum. Going into the film, I had reservations, but I could not wait to see Serkis play Gollum again, and he didn’t disappoint. In the Rings trilogy, Gollum was struggling with his sanity and often fighting it. Here, Serkis gets to cut loose and be full on crazy. It’s a blast to watch; a scene that is both fun yet very tense. The CGI on Gollum is also incredible and the script is at its best in that scene. It’s easily the best scene of the film and if nothing else made The Hobbit awesome for ten minutes.

The visuals here are good, but I don’t think they’re as cutting edge as what was seen in the original trilogy, or in recent blockbusters like Avatar and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The problem is consistency, or lack thereof. Certain scenes look incredible; Gollum for example looks better than ever. But at the same time, other effects look obvious. They aren’t necessarily bad; they’re just clearly not real. Other effects are aesthetically fine I just didn’t like them. The dwarves’ make-up for example is technically good, but I don’t like the exaggerated cartoon like features. The battle scenes also suffer from cartoonish overload and lack a visceral punch.

Overall, I have to say I find the entire film unnecessary. Now one could argue all prequels are unnecessary, but a film likes X-Men: First Class (for example) is so good that I don’t really care if it was necessary or not, the film works on its own. An Unexpected Journey doesn’t work on its own, and it adds very little to the cinematic exploration of Middle-Earth. There are things I like scattered throughout the film and I loved the Gollum scene. Those are enough to give the film some level of merit, but I ultimately can’t endorse the film either. Bottom line, The Hobbit: An  Unexpected Journey does not live up to its pedigree and I have serious doubts about the next two instalments.

Rating: D+

Comments
  1. Andrea Simpson Myllymaki says:

    I definitely agree, that Andy Serkis, is the best part of the movie. I did like the movie, but it certainly isn’t the book, by a long shot.

  2. Wow. I def wasn’t expecting your score when I first clicked the link. Although I understand your reasoning. and I was not thrilled with the pacing of the first half myself. Andy Serkis was the best of this film. you’re right. although I was also glad to see Sir Ian having fun with his Gandalf the Grey!

  3. D+?

    Cmon, man… come onnnnnn…. LOL

  4. brikhaus says:

    D+ is a pretty generous score for this movie.

  5. filmhaven says:

    Im in full agreement with what your review. The Hobbit lacked the same emotional gravity that made The Lord Of The Rings trilogy what it is, and that is a shame. I do hope that the next two instalments improve this. You can check out my review on my blog.

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