Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I still remember the anticipation and excitement that built way back in 2001 when Peter Jackson unleashed Gandalf, Frodo and Gollum onto the big screen and gave the world, The Lord Of The Rings. Jackson managing to take Tolkein’s book, that many claimed was “unfilmable” and not only bring it to life, truthfully and respectfully to it’s source, but also change the entire face of fantasy cinema at the same time.

And with the one Ring binding a trilogy together, cementing Jackson’s place in the pantheon of cinema directors and keeping audiences wowed, delighted and immersed ever since it was not hard to guess that Hollywood couldn’t leave middle earth alone for too long. That the book that started it all would be next on the horizon.

Peter Jackson - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Sadly though, this is where things get messy. The Hobbit was originally going to be directed by Guillermo del Toro, and be split into two films; but del Toro struggled to commit to the time-frame needed and it was left to pick up Jackson to swoop in, pick up the pieces, and ensure The Hobbit came to fruition.

But Jackson’s repatriation to the franchise is a double edged sword, because he is a huge Tolkien fan, and you can love for the source material shining off the screen, but it also means that he ends up in a situation where he doesn’t know how to let go. How to step back. He just wants to give you anything and everything Tolkien thought to mention, and even a few things he didn’t. He wants to share his love for the stories but instead takes such a deep look at the world and the narrative, that a children’s book, a single volume, can be spread out over 3 films and more than 6 hours of film making.

Richard Armitage As Thorin - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

And to kick this marathon off is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And for me it’s title sums it up rather well. It’s an entire film that is needed but unnecessary. It’s unexpected. Because it’s drawing on a book aimed at younger audiences, it introduces the characters, the settings and events with descriptive accuracy, but Jackson takes it too far. You get this overriding sense that not only are you being shown with your eyes but it’s being confirmed through your ears as well. Everything is descriptively and repetitively released from the screen.

There are only so many times you can listen to a dwarf tell you he’s Thorin, son of Thrain, grandson of Thror before you’ve got the message and a simple “hello” would suffice.

The other problem that I have with An Unexpected Journey is the tone that Jackson creates throughout. This is a children’s story. A fun story. Designed to ignite a child’s mind with a tale of friendship and kindness, of good and evil, but told with a smile on it’s face. But because Jackson is bringing it to life after Lord Of The Rings, he brings with him a pre-existing seriousness, a need to make both trilogies feel connected and so, ends up adding a layer of adultness just under the surface that for me, destroys the tone of innocent the source material provides.

James Nesbitt As Bofur - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Granted, it’s a dark tale, there is death destruction and war but there is always light that shines through. Yet somehow, in An Unexpected Journey this is missing. And even the comic moments and characters seem too extreme: James Nesbitt as Bofur too slapstick while, Sylvester McCoy too out of touch with reality to carry of the strength of comic conviction he really has for example.

Don’t get me wrong though. I really like The Hobbit, I actually think it’s a better and thoroughly more satisfying story than The Lord Of The Rings. I find it less preaching and more warming. But for me, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just feels stretched and misguided.

When it’s good, it’s very good, but I can never get this sense of introduction, of simply building to the next out of my head. It just takes too long to really get going and when it does, seems to always knew it’s more impressive kin are to follow and that’s sad, because without it you can’t fully enjoy a trek through The Shire, but it will never be able to stand on it’s own two feet, it will never fully believe in itself.

I still love it though!

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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