The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Distributed By: New Line Cinema
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
I first read The Hobbit when I was about eight years old. I told my dad I was bored and he handed me a book. I loved it so much that I read The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and, later, The Silmarillian. Since then, I've read The Hobbit a number of times and, after seeing Peter Jackson bring the world of The Lord of the Rings to life, prayed for him to make The Hobbit. But when The Hobbit finally did hit the theaters in the form of a trilogy by Peter Jackson, I never had an opportunity to see it. Thus it is that I find myself finally getting around to check out the first film of the trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, on DVD some three plus years after it originally aired in theaters.
We meet Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) as an elderly hobbit preparing for a party celebrating his 111th birthday. Realizing that he has few years left, he decides to write down his adventures in Middle-earth sixty years ago for his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). He begins long before his adventures with the story of how Smaug came to The Lonely Mountain, home of prosperous dwarves led by King Thrór (Jeffrey Thomas). Driven from their home by the dragon, they vow to return one day.
Flashback sixty years in the past and a much younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who once dreamed of adventures but is now quite happy to relax at his home in Bag End. Somehow, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) tricks Bilbo into becoming the host of a dwarf party. It is there, in front of Thorin (Richard Armitage), grandson of King Thrór, and his followers Balin (Ken Stott), Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Fíli (Dean O'Gorman), Kíli (Aidan Turner), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy), Ori (Adam Brown), Óin (John Callean), Glóin (Peter Hambleton), Bifur (William Kurtcher), Bofur (James Nesbitt), and Bombur (Stephen Hunter), Gandalf reveals his plan to add Bilbo to the dwarves quest to return to The Lonely Mountain. Bilbo will be their burglar due to his stature and the fact that the dragon has never smelled the likes of a hobbit before. Bilbo is not thrilled with the idea and turns it down at first, but soon joins the expedition.
The journey leads the fifteen through lands filled with orcs, goblins, trolls and other dangers, but the worst danger is yet to be discovered. Hints of an old enemy begin to make an appearance as does a special ring that allows its wearer to cloak himself in invisibility. Can Thorin regain what was once the dwarf throne, or will Bilbo and the others be destroyed by Smaug or something much worse?
As I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I marveled at the world of J.R.R. Tolkien brought to life through film. Sure, some things were changed - some character expansion, some scenes added to explain other portions of the journey or events later seen in Lord of the Rings, certain scenes deleted, etc. - but the world was just as I had imagined it. The sets were amazing and incredibly realistic. The actors had terrific chemistry and really resembled a team of friends and family embarking on a journey, hoping to reach their goal at whatever cost. The playfulness of the dwarves comes through beautifully during the party at Bilbo's. Martin Freeman portrays Bilbo Baggins brilliantly, allowing us to see the fearful Bilbo as well as the brave and crafty hero we all know lies beneath. Richard Armitage is perfect as Thorin, full of pride for his heritage, set on recovering his family's legacy, somewhat scornful when in need of the help of others.
And the special effects! Turning humans into dwarves and hobbits is no easy task and my kudos to the make-up, wardrobe and prosthetics teams for making the transformation look incredibly real on the screen. The CGI was as incredible as what we saw in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy with fearsome orc armies mounted on wargs, disgusting goblins and trolls and more. Amazing!
I was also thankful that, though there were a couple of changes here and there, Peter Jackson stayed true to the story I've loved all these years. Watching it appear before my eyes was a magical experience. I loved watching the extras on the DVD that helped me understand how it was all done. New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth is a terrific featurette that takes us on a journey to all of the beautiful New Zealand locations used in the filming of The Hobbit. The Video Blog takes us throughout the making of the film from preproduction through actual filming through post-production and the premiere. These videos are incredibly informative and well-worth the watch if you want to know all that went on behind the scenes while creating this film.
I had heard good and bad things about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, some citing the length of the film, others bemoaning the slower pace of the beginning, but I honestly loved every minute. The fact that I enjoyed myself so immensely made me forget how long this first installment was. I honestly can't wait to see the next two in the trilogy! Thank you, Peter Jackson - I knew you were the only choice to bring The Hobbit to life and you didn't fail to live up to expectations! Job well done!