The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Review



Despite me being very impressed by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings universe and Peter Jackson's monumentally great effort of putting those stories into movies, i was fairly unhyped for the Bilbo Baggins' prequel adventure The Hobbit.
The trailers showed a movie within the same LOTR universe with a very weird take. It felt very childish in atmosphere with several singing, dumb looking dwarves and a far less epic story.
When i heard that this ONE book is going to be split up into THREE movies, i was very worried whether this prequel trilogy is going to be as big of a disaster as the Star Wars prequels.
Does the first part of the Hobbit trilogy do the LOTR movies justice?



The plot:
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers.  (source: IMDb)


The Hobbit is a LOTR tale of a completely different scale. Therefore, Bilbo Baggins' adventure with the dwarves and Gandalf is very different in atmosphere and pace as the original LOTR trilogy.
Instead of an epic quest tale to save the world from evil like in the LOTR, the Hobbit is kind of a fairytale within that very same universe.
You just have to look at the basic motives of the heroes (slaying a dragon and getting treasure back) to see that the story is far less complex this time around.

With that said, that doesn't mean that The Hobbit is qualitywise a bad movie. It's a much more lighthearted tale, that involves funnier and more kidfriendly characters (yet again. like a fairytale).
The major downsides about The Hobbit's story don't concern the story itself but rather the decision of how to tell or show it.

Dragon Hunting with Gandalf? Eh...AWESOME?!
 
The first hour of the movie has an incredibly slow pace and only slowly introduces the action of the main journey. Probably the entire first hour is devoted to the introduction of the different characters and the conviction of Bilbo to join them on their quest. While this is more or less well done, scenes like the overly long dinner sequence or some singing parts could've EASILY been cut or at least shortened. With this first part of an entire trilogy being already over 2 hours long, there is absolutely no need for filler like this.

But right after our heroes leave Bilbo's home, the adventure begins and from here on it's just a rollercoaster ride of entertainment. From deadly creatures like trolls and orcs to goblins, they encounter more different dangerous situations than to list them here.
During their journey, at times there are some hints at the following LOTR trilogy but luckily the movie plays it very subtle and doesn't force the LOTR references in your face.
Though still, i found it very weird how everybody (and every creature) in middle-earth seems to know every name and little detail about every item, sword or weapon or whatever by having a glance at it.

The journey itself is very adventury and evokes memories of the first LOTR movie, The Fellowship of the Ring, which it owes a lot to in terms of atmosphere, but then again mixes it with a lot of humor and lighthearted kid-friendly fantasy-story-feel. (Did i mention the The Hobbit is a childrens book?)
It all comes down to an at times unevenly paced but ultimately very satisfying easy-to-get-into fantasy tale.

Bilbo practicing the Game of Thrones pose.

Regarding Jackson's decision to split this ONE book up into three, the reason for this gets clear fairly quickly when you actually experience this movie: many battles and encounters that are quickly read in the original book are depicted very epically and detailed in the movie. Numerous encounters with enemies and creatures are given a whole lot of time in the movie which are kept very short in the book. This is also mentioned by many who actually read the book (me not included).
Considering this, i fully understand the decision to split up the book into several films to make sure that epic encounters stay epic and exciting as they are in the final movie.
--> But also, YES! Money is OF COURSE another big factor that plays into the whole splitting-up the book affair. I guess two movies would have been alright, but three seems a bit overdone. We'll see.

As i already mentioned, the characters in The Hobbit are much less complex and more straightforward for younger audiences and for the sake of the original book being a childrens fantasy book. While our group of protagonists consists out of a fairly big group of dwarf warriors, there are only about 3 or 4 of the about 8 dwarves that you care about and recognize. The other half of the dwarf group remains pretty faceless throughout the movie and doesn't get anything important to say (if anything). Because of that, it is easy to lose count of how many dwarves there actually are in the group. But giving each of the dwarves enough screentime to have an own big character would be stretching the movie too long anyway.
The focus is clearly on Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin (the Aragorn of the group) and Kili (the Legolas of the group). Many characteristics of some of the protagonists you may easily recognize as almost the exact same ones of the LOTR protagonists like Aragorn or Legolas.

THE DWARVES!...You only need to remember about 4 of 'em.

While some may find this lack of originality annoying, i personally felt that those characters still have enough of an own (mostly funny and quirky) personality with an own backstory to remain original. Yet still, only because one dwarf is a very good archer that doesn't necessarily mean that he is a Legolas rip-off (it's not like Legolas is the only dude who can handle a bow and arrow).

The acting is great as well. Ian McKellen basically just IS Gandalf, the dwarf crew serve their purpose of being funny and likable supporting characters very well and Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins honestly is a much much better and much more likable protagonist than the old Bilbo or even Elijah Wood as Frodo (but yet again you have to consider that The Hobbit is also another kind of tale).

The effects are mainly done very well but are also a mixed bag.
CG environments look just as epic and grand in scale like in the original LOTR movies and production values in general are kept at least at the same amount.
Unfortunately, there are a good amount of things that the CG effects just aren't able to deliver well enough. Different from the LOTR movies that featured actual actors playing orcs with excellent make-up work, here orcs are for 85% of the time completely done with CG.
The same goes even for natural things like animals. Hedgehogs, rabbits and other wildlife is completely CG, which sacrifices a whole lot of the organic feel and believability that the original LOTR movies had.
Is it really harder to get a freakin' real Hedgehog than to CG it?
To be fair, it's understandable that not many of the creatures can be done without the use of CGI, but many times those effects really look artificial like with the Goblin King who almost looks like he rather belongs into an animated movie from Pixar.
But generally it's still very well done effects work, while not being on par with the organic feel of the LOTR effects.

"It glows when orcs are nearby...you're stealthier that way."

Overall, i had an awesome time watching The Hobbit.
Despite being completely unimpressed by the trailers, reading and hearing underwhelmed reviews and being really worried that it is probably the "Star Wars Prequel trilogy" of LOTR, i can luckily put all those worries to rest.
The Hobbit is a very great fantasy tale that in my opinion greatly benefits from its simplistic yet very entertaining adventure-structure. For some hardcore LOTR fans it may be hard to get used to this new kid-friendly and more straight-forward approach of the movie, but if you happen to get used to that, you are about to experience the pure joy of fantasy adventure. No overly big epic backstories and explanations for a monumentally scaled mission to defend the world against evil, but just a nice easy-to-get-into story with lots of humor, likable protagonists, colorful creatures and a basic quest.

The Hobbit reminds one of the good old days where fantasy movies came in all shapes and sizes like "The Princess Bride", "The Neverending Story" or "Legend".

With the only downsides being a sometimes uneven pace, a slow first hour and some overdone effects, those are minor nitpicks if you look at the complete package that gives us this joy of adventure through the fantasy world of middle-earth that also non-LOTR fans can enjoy.

Despite having a well round-up ending for a first movie of a trilogy, i was sad when the movie ended and that i now have to wait another year to continue the adventure.
Easily one of the best movies this year and far away from being a disaster like the Star Wars prequels.

 

Final Verdict: 8 out of 10 




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