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Review #3888: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Posted on the 19 December 2012 by Entil2001 @criticalmyth

Contributor: Henry T.

Screenplay by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Directed by Peter Jackson

The thought had occurred to me while watching “The Hobbit”: This feels like watching the Star Wars prequels years after watching the original trilogy so many times. You know what’s going to happen to these characters. The details may change, but the story is essentially following the same path. Indeed, the first “Lord of the Rings” trilogy of movies dealt with far heavier material, with a clear threat and purpose. “The Hobbit” seems to be emphasizing the adventure aspects of the story so it would be wise for any viewers of the film to re-calibrate their expectations.

Review #3888: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

This isn’t a rallying cry for everyone to combat a growing evil. Sauron is a background threat that exists in the shadows. No, this is a noble quest to regain a homeland that was lost. Bilbo is more a passenger and more hesitant than Frodo was in “Lord of the Rings”. It’s definitely lost a little something in the concerted effort to be different from the previous trilogy of movies. I think it comes down to the device framing the story. The trilogy of movies is being told in flashback format, connected to the oustanding “Lord of the Rings” trilogy by the opening scene of an old Bilbo telling Frodo everything about his grand adventure. We know what is to come and so we are almost forced to compare what is going to happen to the content of those flashbacks.

Granted, much of the audience hasn’t met any of the 13 dwarves and the film doesn’t take the time to draw any distinct personalities with them. They are part of a huge gathering at Bilbo’s house, are led by Thorin Oakenshield, the de facto prince of the dwarf population, and they are used to convince Bilbo to go on this journey to Erebor (the “Lonely Mountain”). There, within the walls of Erebor lie a treasure and a dragon, Smaug, that lay waste to the once-great city inside. It’s not as noble a quest as destroying the Ring of Power in Mount Doom, but it is rife with danger.

So that, combined with Bilbo’s more risk-averse personality means that there won’t be immediate acceptance of the quest. But we all know Bilbo does eventually acquiesce to the task and he’s on his way with the dwarves and Gandalf in tow. The quest is much the same as Frodo and Sam’s in “Fellowship of the Ring”. There is a stop at Rivendell and Bilbo comes face-to-face with Gollum in Gollum’s Cave, which is an iconic scene in the book that was one of the few parts of the movie with energy and imagination. Otherwise, it’s all a setup for the next chapter of the journey Bilbo takes away from his home and all that he has known.

Within the journey across Middle Earth — and New Zealand looks as majestic as ever — there is no central relationship to anchor the story. Gandalf may be friends with Bilbo because he is convinced the dwarves need him to enter the Lonely Mountain, but he spends much of the film detached from the group. It’s much like the course in the “Fellowship of the Ring”, but that film had Frodo and Sam as the heroes to root for. Bilbo is the hero here, but he is filled with doubt and issues of belonging amongst a group of dwarves who have a different agenda from him. This is played out in a number of scenes as the group journeys from one destination to the next.

Bilbo doesn’t belong with the dwarves. He’s the resident “burglar” and is hardly able to defend himself from any dangers that come their way. The film takes its time in developing this story, but it does make up the spine of the journey everyone takes. Bilbo has to earn his acceptance into the group. After having heaps of self-doubt, the act of saving Thorin Oakenshield from being killed by a warg and orc attack earns the respect of the dwarves. While there may be no central friendship to anchor the film, it’s clear that Bilbo is the lead character of this series of films and it’s only going to develop further as the two remaining segments of “The Hobbit” get released.

This may be reading as a negative review so far, but there are moments and sequences in the film that make it worth seeing. It’s telling that all of them are in the second half of the film, from the group’s arrival at Rivendell onward. The film seems to get a second wind once the focus is on Elrond, Galadriel, and Gandalf. It leaves the kids’ table to wander by the adults’ table for a bit. They are all discussing an unknown threat called the “Necromancer”, who goes by a different, more fearsome name in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. There is a great sequence where the group encounters a trio of mountain trolls and almost gets roasted alive. Bilbo has a great moment in improvising a way to defeat the trolls. Also, when Bilbo falls into Gollum’s Cave and meets the hobbit with a split personality, it’s truly entertaining. Especially when Bilbo gains possession of the One Ring and engages in a rapid-fire exchange of riddles with Gollum.

Both Gollum and Saruman (who makes an inspired cameo in the Rivendell sequence with Galadriel and the rest) are far different than the characters we saw in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. They aren’t burdened with the evils that will eventually consume the both of them in the future. But they will always be compared to what they did in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Director Peter Jackson set the bar so high with the previous films that this trilogy will pale in comparison. It’s also difficult to assign a full grade to this film without seeing the other two segments. The film is all setup for events to come and it won’t be judged fully until the entire saga unfolds. This is not the worst start, though. It could have been better — probably more tightly edited being my chief complaint — but I always welcome another visit to Middle Earth.

Score: 7/10

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