The first of The Hobbit films in the Lord of the Rings cycle sets the stage for one of the most successful franchises of all time. The team has the formula down and done and in turning back in time this epic origins tale makes the earlier – or later – films sing.
An Unexpected Journey is zany. The Dwarves take center stage, when oh so long ago, they were harried out of their homeland in a vicious attack by fire breathing dragon Smaug. They’ve wandered the land homeless, yet still in high spirits thanks to grog and good nature.
Gandalf leads them to Bilbo Baggins’ Shire home in where they present themselves, sensing a big stash of food and drink and perhaps a new recruit in their war against Smaug. They take over Bilbo’s grandmotherly hovel, with its doilies, lace, tea and biscuits, to plan the restoration of their treasures over a few barrels of grog and merrymaking.
Through all, leader of the Dwarves Thorin Oakenshield – Richard Armitage – the emerging hero/heart throb – looks gloomy and rather than merrymaking, ponders the next steps versus dragon.
Bilbo – Martin Freeman – has become a man of few variations. He’s a homebody, and plays it safe. He would rather read about slaying dragons with a pack of dwarves than do it. It’s clear he has spent much of his life hiding, sitting by the fireside with his beloved books.
He’s aghast at the Dwarves tremendous joie de vivre, they trash the place as they refuel their tanks, and soon their charm wins him over. He rediscovers his sense of fun and adventure and soon succumbs to the lure of the road. He sets out with the Dwarves to slay dragons.
The adventure is absolutely huge, and many of the characters we know from the future are beginning to take on their special qualities they will need for Lord of the Rings. It’s going to be a long haul, as we with prior knowledge, are acutely aware. The future is now as battles ensue.
An eerie sequence in which Bilbo steals Gollum’s gold ring is the seed for the entire series. It’s played to somber effect, as the darkness closes in. The moment is Bilbo’s loss of innocence and it feels evil and ominous. It’s Go Time.
Jackson’s scrumptious, beautiful, and emotional adaptation has some laughs and a good measure of silliness. But the darkness is always close by.
My quibble is common across the genre film spectrum: endless battle scenes filling time, and reaching holiday bustin’-at-the-seams lengths. It’s repetitive and numbing. The story is hung on warfare but judicious editing is called for because the relentless rumbling and sword clashing that looks the same every time turns me into a glazed ham.
Still it’s a beautiful world Jackson has created where wondrous things still happen. The strongest moment in the film and the most important to the franchise, between Bilbo and Gollum lingers in the mind as a powerful reminder of what lies ahead.
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35mm action adventure
Written by Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit
Directed by Peter Jackson
Opens: Dec 14
Runtime: 170 minutes
Country: USA / New Zealand