The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was No. 2 in my top five movies to see over Christmas break. Having seen more than my fair share of the Lord of the Rings films, it is safe to say I was pretty pumped for the highly-anticipated release of their predecessor. After seeing the movie twice in theaters, it really went above and beyond what I anticipated. The structuring of the plot, gorgeous cinematography, and the characters and creatures of Middle-earth all come together to create not just an amazing experience, but a world the audience becomes completely immersed in.
Director Peter Jackson is, without a doubt, a pioneer filmmaker. His style is very unique and the parallels between this first of three Hobbit films are closely comparable to The Fellowship of the Ring. The way that the overall plot of the movie is executed begins in The Shire just before Frodo goes to meet Gandalf at the beginning of The Fellowship, so already Jackson has linked this prequel trilogy to the LOTR trilogy for us. Older Bilbo narrates at the start of the movie as he is ready to tell Frodo of his adventure (which the movie is about) and sits down to write the book. Sitting outside his house, Bilbo blows a smoke ring from his pipe into the air, but when it comes back down his 60-year younger self is sitting there instead, producing an awesome transition.
The most notable similarity between this movie and The Fellowship are the heavily story-oriented beginnings. Background on the downfall of the home of the dwarves is extremely vital to understanding why they are on their quest, not to mention some incredible settings are put on display, along with small, partial shots of Smaug the dragon. It’s true that a lot of the two hour and fifty minute running time is spent in The Shire, but the dialogue is rich among Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo (Martin Freeman), dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the rest of the band of dwarves. Whether they’re discussing the quest at hand, or singing songs about driving Bilbo crazy and their former home in the mountains, each moment is key in kick-starting the journey.
After the ball gets rolling, there is plenty of action and epic story to be had. The party faces a number of challenges, such as outsmarting and fighting three rogue trolls, visiting old and new friends in classic LOTR locations, walking through mountain passes that are really stone giants, coming face to face with the Goblin King (well voiced by Barry Humphries, Bruce in Finding Nemo), escaping the clutches of Gollum, and finishing a timeless battle between the dwarves and a Pale Orc named Azog the Defiler. Every aspect of this story is realistically flawless, and any bones that are to be picked usually boil down to personal viewer opinion.
Use of CGIs throughout the film really stand out and bring an insane amount of life to both familiar characters and brand new characters. An enhancement made to Gollum (Andy Serkis) for instance, is that his eyes glow blue from time to time during his interactions with Bilbo. As fans know, Gollum has a split personality and often talks to himself as a result of corruption from The Ring. His eyes glowing symbolizes that constant struggle and change between his two personalities, and it’s fun to watch the faces, noises and snide remarks he makes whenever on screen.
On the other hand, something that bothered me, personally, was the overuse of CGI creatures that have been played by actual people in the LOTR trilogy. Real people have always played orcs, but in this movie Jackson went with completely computer-generated versions of them. The look of them is actually very cool because every scar, chunk of flesh missing, and little detail can be seen much easier than trying to make those things prominent with make-up. However, when they’re actually moving or talking they begin to look like they belong in a video game. For anyone who’s seen the obnoxious slew of “World of Warcraft” commercials, they remind me of the same animations used in those. This isn’t a make-or-break problem that detracts from the movie itself, but it’s definitely noticeable.
The number of positive new aspects to this film indicate the beginning of a strong trilogy, one that might possibly be better than the LOTR epic. Gandalf, who is a wizard, uses very little magic and does very little fighting in the first three movies. In this installment, he uses crazy spells to get the group out of tight situations, and fights with his sword/staff combination whenever action takes place. The dwarves are a likeable group, as each one stands alone with signature fighting styles, moves and dialogue that make them each truly memorable.
The cinematography of the landscapes far outdoes Life of Pi, something even I didn’t think possible, but the icing on the cake is the underlying themes. Bilbo, like Frodo, is a small person with a big heart. He and Thorin start out hostile towards each other, insulting and poking at the other’s faults. By the end of the film, they realize they are actually in wonderful company, and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Some people weren’t thrilled that Jackson and company decided to make this another trilogy, but it’s definitely already one of the best movies of the year and passing up on it is a big mistake. It has been out for a while now, so get to the theater and see it before it’s gone! Nine out of 10.