“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” neither undermines nor disgraces the legacy of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Rather, it underlines the importance of that story while making it clear the new one we’re witnessing now is here to stay.
And from what I can gather, this film has earned that right.
Although I had not read and have yet to read J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, I was nevertheless blown away by what Peter Jackson had accomplished in his adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings.”
This filmmaker had a clear understanding of what he needed to do, and he completed more than what was expected of him. When I heard on the grapevine that there was a possibility of “The Hobbit” becoming a multi-part film, to say I was taken aback would be putting it mildly.
How anyone was going to divide Tolkien’s novel into three installments baffled me. Was such an ambitious goal even feasible? Apparently, as Jackson proves here.
The film begins 60 years before the events of “The Lord of the Rings,” with a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). When Baggins is drafted into a group of Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the wizard Gandalf (with Sir Ian McKellen, reprising his role), he finds himself embarking on a life-changing journey where danger lurks at seemingly every turn.
Peter Jackson’s decision to shoot the film at 48 frames per second (instead of the normal 24) imbues it with a refined lucidity, enabling the audience to get a clearer sense and view of what is happening to the characters from scene to scene.
Locations such as the Shire, Rivendell, and the Misty Mountains are presented with greater clarity this time around. It’s as if Middle-Earth underwent a metamorphosis — its already spectacular nature becomes even more amplified by the technology used to capture it.
For those who are concerned about there not being enough material for the film to be divided into three parts, I can tell you this: you have nothing to fear.
The use of violent flashbacks to explain how the lead characters came to be who they are now provides sufficient meat to keep the narrative going, building up to an impressive action-packed climax. Remember, though, the tribulations that Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin, and the others encounter here are only a hint of what will come in the future.
I don’t think anyone else could have embodied the reluctant yet unassuming heroism of Bilbo other than Martin Freeman. Age cannot stop Ian McKellen from stepping into Gandalf’s shoes and appear at the last possible moment to save his comrades. Richard Armitage does an excellent job of balancing Thorin’s courage and prowess in battle against the inner demons that fuel his pride. Manu Bennett brings a fearsome, ruthless individuality to Azog, an Orc chieftain.
In addition, it was good to see Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, and Elijah Wood reprise their roles from the original trilogy. But the most significant familiar “face” would have to be Andy Serkis, whose portrayal of Gollum is still as powerfully layered as it was in the “Rings” trilogy.
Think of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” as the beginning of a big promise — a promise that you hope will be fulfilled. Well, I believe this promise is set on the right path to being fulfilled, and I look forward to witnessing the second installment next year.
Where: Wide Release
Run time: 2 hours 49 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13 for extended scenes of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.