I grew up a huge Lord of the Rings fan. When I was a kid I had all of the movies, of course, but I also had numerous action figures, several special editions, and even a LOTR version or the board game Risk, which I kicked total ass at, by the way. So needless to say, I was pumped for The Hobbit. My roommate and I went at midnight on Thursday, and I woke up four and a half hours later to fly home and write this review, so buckle up, we are breaking down An Unexpected Journey.
I think that the main thing I was looking for in the Hobbit was a recapturing of the total buy-in I felt when I watched the original trilogy. That is to say, when I watched the Lord of the Rings movies, everything was so well-done and so fantastic that I was absolutely invested in everything that was going on. All of the lands and peoples and races of Middle Earth had been brought to life in ways that many of us had never seen or experienced before, and the result was a sense of scope and wonder that brought the fantasy world to life. The Hobbit needed to do just that all over again; I wanted to feel like I had returned to Middle Earth. By and large, it succeeds triumphantly.
The movie opens in the Shire, home of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who is unknowingly about to embark on, well, an unexpected journey. Most of us know the story. He is swept up alongside Gandalf the Grey and 12 dwarves to reclaim a lost dwarven treasure from Smaug the dragon. This movie serves as the first part of three in that fantastic tale, and it kicks things off spectacularly.
It would not be possible without a great Bilbo, and Martin Freeman is wonderfully likeable and hobbit-ish as our hero. He may not win an award, but his work here may make him one of the most well-loved characters of the year by movie-goers. If there ever was a perfect Bilbo, it is Freeman. The dwarves are serviceable in their roles, perhaps a little more cartoonish than necessary, but as they are here largely for comic-relief (save two of them), it does not matter. Sir Ian McKellen is his usual extraordinary Gandalf, and as a whole, one has an easy time rooting for the ragtag, bumbling gang of treasure-seekers. The moments when the whole party is onscreen at once are some of the highlights of the film.
Speaking of highlights, it would not be The Hobbit without some battles, and this is sadly where the movie falls just short. There is plenty of action to be had, certainly, but CGI is used rather heavily in this flick, much more heavily than in the Rings trilogy, and the result can be quite distracting at times. Orcs and goblins, once done with makeup and costumes, are largely computer-generated this time around, and there was the rare moment when I missed the authenticity of old. The larger foes, like trolls, even at times looked less real than in the older movies; it was a little disappointing.
Also, by nature, the movie lacks a big, impact battle scene. Fellowship had the uruk-hai chase in the hills beyond Rivendell, Towers had the fight for Helm’s Deep, and King had Minas Tirith and the Battle at the Black Gate. With The Hobbit divided like it is, this particular portion was just missing that moment. There is still quite a suitable climax, and fans of the book will know that those moments will expect to come, but it never had that woah moment I was looking for.
However, I said this movie was a triumph, and a few CGI issues fail to hold it back from being great. The expansion of the movie into three parts now looks like a spectacular move, with all of the additional Middle Earth lore that the writers are adding in (and have set up for the next two movies), this adventure is so meaty that Rings fans will find themselves scouring all of Tolkien’s unpublished works for hint of what is to come. This is The Hobbit you knew, but made better by a bunch of kick-ass stuff mixed in from other legends of Middle Earth. These are blended extraordinarily well into the main storyline, and I was stunned at how seamless it all seemed in the end.
From the hills of the Shire to the falls of Rivendell, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an absolute treat. Casual fans of the Rings movies will love the numerous appearances by characters from the originals (our theater cheered when a certain hobbit dropped by), and die-hard readers and watchers will go crazy over the sheer amount of Middle Earth lore packed into this one. An overabundance of CGI does little to detract from the experience, and while Fellowship-esque set-piece sacrifices are made, you know it is all for the greater good of the next two movies (and either way, the riddle scene more than makes up for the lack of a huge battle—guys, it is absolutely perfect). The Hobbit has me excited to return to Middle Earth, and a more charming film experience will be tough to find this year.