DVD release date: April 8th, treatment 2013
Running time: Approx. 169 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, medical Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, J. R. R. Tolkien
Composer: Howard Shore
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch
There are those moments in our lives when something unexpected comes along. After all, life is what they say happens in-between our plans and the test is really how we respond to these moments.
There aren’t many people I know who’d gladly pack their bags and head off on a journey where the only thing that’s certain is the unforeseen, though they might say otherwise. Maybe it takes a special kind of person to risk everything on the idea there’s more out there than life puts at their door.
Such is the story of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey which sees Peter Jackson returning to the world created by J. R. R. Tolkien, this time with the story that came before The Lord Of The Rings series. Having read it at school when I was eight years old, The Hobbit’s been a tale that’s remained enshrined in memory all these years; a fantastic tale of an epic adventure through dangerous and magical lands and filled with awesome and terrible creatures.
Jackson, again, has brought Tolkien’s fantasy world to life with an almost overwhelming line-up of special effects, a sumptuous cinematography and action scenes that are original and imaginative. So are the characters, most of which really don’t seem to originate from a decades-old literary source.
Beginning with Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing his memoirs to leave to his nephew Frodo, we’re then taken back in time to sixty years earlier when he was a young hobbit (played by Martin Freeman). It’s here he’s approached by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) who informs him that he’s about to embark on an unexpected journey. Bilbo receives this invitation with much annoyance as he can’t think of anything worse than setting off somewhere unknown and leaving behind his comfortable home, warm food and favourite books, but later that night Gandalf returns with thirteen dwarves, which annoys the pedantic hobbit even further. After what seems like a long and unmannerly feast, the mission for them to head to the Lonely Mountain and reclaim a vast treasure from the dragon Smaug is revealed and Gandalf tells Bilbo he will be their burglar if he joins them.
Although unenthusiastic, we know Bilbo will sign the contract and head of with them after some time to think it over, but travelling with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), proves to be tricky as the dwarf doesn’t think a hobbit has any business being on such a journey with them. Making their way to Rivendell we encounter some more familiar faces as Gandalf and Thorin need help in deciphering an ancient map, but after setting off again they soon encounter trolls, stone giants, wolves and fearsome orcs before they get anywhere near the Lonely Mountain.
Like Tolkien, Peter Jackson takes his time before the actual adventure begins. He savours every detail, and the first hour is spent making us feel comfortable in Middle Earth and be prepared for the many humorous moments throughout the film that verge on slapstick at times. The epic introduction though is, above all, made for Lord Of The Rings fans, and used to introduce the new heroes of the new trilogy.
But there are other unexpected twists, too. One of them is Gandalf being a much more active and sometimes even merciless character; his decapitating the odd couple of orcs is but one of the moments where the old wizard literally gears into action. As with Gandalf, The Hobbit very much relies on its strong and lovingly drawn characters. Gollum’s appearance, for instance, is what we’d expect but also much more than that.
Though the action in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is combined with incredible special effects, seeing it in HFR 3D (High Frame Rate 3D, filmed at 48 frames per second instead of 24) came as a bit of shock. Gone was the glossy look we were treated to with The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) and in its place was a film which, though it has enhanced clarity and smoothness, made the magic of this thrilling story look as if it were on a London stage or a made-for-television special.
This attempt to make the film look as real as possible might take some magic out of the fantasy, and I’d be curious to see what movie-goers will have to say about it but personally I feel HFR 3D is best suited to filming sporting events than it is with a film like this.
Also returning to the Tolkien world is Howard Shore who composed the scores for The Lord Of The Rings series. His score for this film however is missing a core theme or light motif to set it apart from those other films and relies too heavily on what we’ve heard before. Seeing as this is essentially a prequel I felt it should’ve had its own sound, since it also has its own look. That being said, Song of the Lonely Mountain adds a nice touch. Sung by the dwarves and lead by Thorin, it marks a sombre moment in Bilbo’s house as they lament over the home they lost, but it’s also reminiscent of Aragorn’s Coronation sung by Viggo Mortensen in The Return of the King in its vocal delivery and sweeping instrumentation.
Despite my criticisms though, there’s much to enjoy in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It’s great to see so many familiar faces turning up and it’s hard to believe nine long years have passed since we last saw them but Jackson makes it feel like it was only yesterday again. As the first part in a new trilogy, it’s a shaky beginning with technology compromising a story first told on paper 75 years ago, but no journey is to be expected without a few bumps, especially at the start.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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