By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy helped re-invent the epic film in the early 21st century. Several trilogies and film series have attempted to replicate the scope of the original LOTR trilogy, but none have been able to quite achieve the emotional and visual level of accomplishment that Jackson’s classic trilogy earned. Peter Jackson has returned with his rendition of The Hobbit, kicking off his new trilogy with An Unexpected Journey. Although not the best in the line of Jackson’s adaptations of Tolkien, An Unexpected Journey still has much to be enjoyed and sets the foundation for what seems to be another solid trip to Middle-Earth.
Set sixty years before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, An Unexpected Journey tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, who is recruited by Gandalf the Grey to join a company of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland from Smaug the dragon. Pressed into the company against his wlll, Bilbo soon finds himself in the adventure of a lifetime and begins his destined quest which results in his possession of the One Ring.
For a film that encountered its fair share of production hang-ups, An Unexpected Journey manages to pull itself together to become a legitimate opening chapter of a new Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film was made or broken by the performance of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and luckily, he nails it.
Having the always emphatic Ian McKellen return into his role as Gandalf the Grey, Freeman has the mannerisms of Ian Holm’s turn as Bilbo for the original trilogy and adds his own flare to the role. Bilbo is an emphatic character and without an actor who could handle the role, the film would have quickly faltered. Campbell should be able to withold the character throughout the franchise as his humorous, deep role is a refreshing change of pace for the franchise.
McKellen nails the Grey wizard once again, although the nine years since the previous film has had obvious effects on the aging actor. One thing that jumped off of the screen was how much older McKellen looked, which was somewhat ironic that he looked so old in a prequel. In a film that puts more CGI on the screen than any previous iteration of the series, I’m sure that something could have been done to keep McKellen but make him look the same as he did in the original trilogy or use the magic of CGI to take a few years off.
There is a strong amount of action in the film, from the opening battles with the giants to the final fight with the goblin king, which is complimented by a good amount of CGI. However, the overuse of CGI is an immediate downfall of this film. One of the coolest aspects of the Lord of the Rings trilogy was that Jackson used real actors whenever he was able to. Not the case in The Hobbit. The Orcs in An Unexpected Journey are mostly CGI, which immediately rips you out of the world that Jackson is trying to implant you into. A little too much CGI derails the film quickly, which is unfortunate since the usage of great makeup and costumes was part of what made the original trilogy so strong in the first place.
The pace also slightly hurts An Unexpected Journey, but in the long run, the trilogy will be better for it. Although it is not the back-breaker that many are making it out to be, the first 45 minutes do tend to drag before Bilbo packs up and leaves with the dwarves on the adventure.
The feast at Bilbo’s is a central piece of the book and Jackson was wise to allow it to breathe. Sure, the scene was a little overlong, but people tend to forget that it almost took an hour in Fellowship of the Ring before Frodo and the other Hobbits battled the ring wraiths above Weathertop. This series is a trilogy, which means that character development must be properly started with a good foundation. The opening hour of An Unexpected Journey does a great deal for these characters in a small amount of time.
However, there is a great deal to like about this first installment of Tolkien’s classic and enough to make me want to see more. The conflict between Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the Dwarves, and Azog the Defiler, an orc captain, defines the first film and its conclusion in An Unexpected Journey leaves the door wide open for more entertaining battles throughout the rest of the series. The group of Dwarves are a diverse and widely entertaining bunch and the dynamic between some of them I assume will soon take the same directive as the one between Legolas and Gimli in the original trilogy, gaining more and more steam as the series progresses.
One character that will be missed as the series moves forward is Gollum, who once again steals the show in An Unexpected Journey. The well-known riddle battle between Bilbo and Gollum is well worth the wait and is fully engrossing while on screen. This was the role that defined the original trilogy and it was a welcome return for the infamous character.
An Unexpected Journey is a welcome return to form for Jackson and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film is obviously the opening to a trilogy and has its shortcomings, but there is enough to enjoy, from the casting to the strong action. The overuse of CGI takes a bit away from the overall product, but Lord of the Rings fans will be content with the first chapter of The Hobbit trilogy and is more than enough to warrant two additional trips to Middle Earth.