Written by Jeff Snyder
So I finally got out to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. There is so much that I could talk about with this film. Literally, books could be written on this one film alone, analyzing and picking it apart. I’m here to give you a bite-sized review so that you can know whether or not to waste your time seeing this film. Well, I’ll quickly ask you a question. Did you enjoy the original trilogy? If you did, you’ll love this. Did you enjoy the book, The Hobbit? Yeah? Then you’ll love it.
The story is actually one of the weaker parts of this film. I just feel they tried to fit too much in. This is odd because in my pre-viewing thoughts I was worried about there not being enough material for them to work with in this film. My God was I wrong. The movie could have been about 30 minutes shorter and not suffered at all. I get that they wanted to flesh out a lot of the side-stories and the atmosphere of Middle Earth, but do we really need all of the side stories? The main story of the Hobbit is a great story as it is and doesn’t need too much. We have three large villains in this film and I’m not really sure who is the main one. We have Azog, the Orcish chieftain who acts as a personal antagonist to Thorin; we have the Necromancer, who [spoiler alert] is Sauron (revealed outside of the movies); and, of course, we have Smaug. I feel that the focus on the Necromancer (while a nice addition used to flesh out Middle Earth) is a step too far . We aren’t able to focus on Azog, who operates as a great sub-villain, or Smaug, who is the ‘end of the road’ villain. Azog is great because it gives Bilbo and the dwarves an enemy that harries them on their way to the Lonely Mountain. This works with Smaug because the wyrm never leaves the mountain until near the end of the story. The Necromancer is just a side-story (right now) that has nothing to do with the party and takes focus away from developing the characters. Sometimes, less is more. The way the necromancer should have been handled is give basic hints towards him, maybe a mention here or there, in the first film, introduce him towards the end of the second film, and become the main villain in the third film (with the second film ending with the death of Smaug and the third focusing on the Battle of Five Armies).
One upside is that the dwarves, and the characters in general, were handled well. My biggest worry with the dwarves was that it might become too clustered in the scenes. Each dwarf has a personality and it’s dealt with very well. The filmmakers aren’t hitting you over the head with the personalities, it feels very natural. The dwarves’ personalities are shown in the littlest details. The way they talk, their clothes, what they are doing within the group. To quote Mr. Harry S. Plinkett, “you might not have noticed it, but your brain did”. Simply excellently done.
The music and film-making are on par with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Lots of sweeping shots and sweeping musical numbers. The landscapes and the sets are all amazing, just what we’ve come to expect from Peter Jackson. Even some of the sets that appear in only one scene are stunning. It just must be fairly annoying to spend so much time making this amazing set filled with trees and wildlife and its on the screen for 5 seconds. Another film-making decision that really helped the film was Jackson’s use of Tolkien’s songs. It brings a strong Tolkien flavor to Tolkien’s story. It would have been so easy to make the songs campy and silly (kind of like the 1970’s cartoon of the Hobbit) but these versions of the songs were simply immersive.
Finally, the casting was great. While Ian McKellen has aged, this is more apparent in his first five minutes of the film, he is still an amazing actor and the only actor who I can see as Gandalf now. Richard Armitage does a great job as the solemn Thorin. The dwarves each were excellent, specifically Ken Scott (Balin), Aiden Turner (Kili), and James Nesbitt (Bofur). Martin Freeman was amazing as Bilbo, an inspired casting selection. I never doubted as much (his portrayal of Watson in Sherlock is evidence of his obvious talent) and I really am excited to see the rest of this trilogy. Nervous, but excited.