Over ten years ago, thousands of people were introduced to Middle Earth, hobbits and wizards when the first “Lord of the Rings” film debuted, based on the classic novels by J.R.R Tolkien. Now, nine years after the last film, director Peter Jackson successfully brings back this fantasy world in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Based on the 1937 novel by Tolkien, “The Hobbit” is a proper prequel for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy while still mustering its own exciting story in which the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) invites Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) on an adventure with 13 dwarves to reclaim a lost dwarf city on the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. After much persuasion, Baggins, an unlikely adventurer joins the group on a dangerous and unexpected journey.
As a huge LOTR fan, I was thrilled for “The Hobbit.” I expected a proper return to the Shire with Howard Shore’s glorious soundtrack accompanying this remarkable reunion featuring Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, Frodo and Saruman, characters from the earlier films.
Gosh, I sound like a complete nerd. But I’m also a nerd that was disappointed by “The Hobbit,” something I did not expect at all.
Don’t get me wrong. I was giddy as a school boy when Bilbo began narrating the film with the opening paragraph straight from the novel. I smiled when Frodo made his six minute cameo. I applauded Gollum’s return to the silver screen.
But I also almost fell asleep six times due to “The Hobbit”’s awful pacing. For example, the most unexpected part about this journey is that it begins an hour into the film. In the book, the journey begins in chapter two. Dialogue drags on and on to the point where the viewer becomes uncomfortable. And at one point, I forgot that Bilbo was the main character because he was not on screen for 20 minutes because of the extensive side stories.
Unfortunately, this dreadful pacing and the cheesy computer generated images set “The Hobbit” apart from the LOTR film trilogy. “The Fellowship of the Ring” used CGI sparingly, creating an environment and setting that was completely genuine. “The Return of the King” masterfully blended CGI and live action to create some of the best battles in cinema. “The Hobbit,” however, relies too much on CGI, to the point where Bilbo appears almost out of place because he is not as fluid as the trolls or goblins. Instead of building sets like they did in “The Two Towers,” they used computers to construct these massive sets. Sure, they are grander, but they’re obviously fake, something that most movies can cover up. But “The Hobbit”‘s CGI sticks out like the dwarfs’ noses. It’s almost like “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” to that extent but without the horrific acting.
The acting in “The Hobbit” is absolutely stellar, led by Freeman’s perfect portrayal of the bumbling Bilbo Baggins. Jackson could not have chosen a better actor, and it’s exciting to see where Freeman takes the character in the next two “Hobbit” films. The legendary Ian McKellan once again dons the wizard hat as Gandalf and delivers the same canny wisdom that we fell in love with ten years ago. Newcomer Richard Armitage plays Thorin Oakenshield, the brave leader of the dwarves. Armitage successfully adds an Aragorn-like element to the character that should give fans much appreciated deja-vu.
“The Hobbit” also solidifies Jackson’s talent for directing battle sequences. The film perfectly blends intensity, violence and desperation with its fight scenes. I thought Bilbo would die at several points (even though there are two more “Hobbit” films on its way). Somehow a three foot tall hobbit survives giant battles with goblins and Wargs, but it’s all very exciting. But it’s unfortunate the fight scenes are few and far between.
In the end, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is an epic film with a few nagging issues that become magnified when compared to the other LOTR films. It’s certainly not a dreadful prequel like “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace,” although it is nowhere near as powerful as “The Return of the King.” But that should not stop any hardcore fans from going there and back again to Middle Earth.