Written by: Connor Park
A classic tale of high fantasy and adventure, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey certainly lives up to its name. The first in the trilogy that will adapt J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit to the silver screen, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey establishes a golden standard for the remaining two films and is nothing if not a journey of storytelling excellence.
The movie tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, portrayed by Martin Freeman (“Hot Fuzz”), as he recounts the story of his grandest adventure. His story begins sixty years in the past, when he is approached by a wandering wizard known as Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf, played by Ian McKellen (“X-Men”), tricks Bilbo into hosting a meeting of a band of thirteen dwarves, led by Richard Armitage (“Frozen”) as Thorin Oakenshield.
The greatly annoyed Bilbo is persuaded by Gandalf and the dwarves to accompany them on a quest to reclaim their home in the Lonely Mountain, Erebor, after the dwarves recall the story of their exile: a great fire drake called Smaug had destroyed the stronghold and forced all of the dwarves to flee. Thorin is determined to reclaim the city as he is next in line to the throne.
As the story unfolds, the group encounters many great perils. Each situation that presents itself to the company of dwarves is entirely dangerous and yet retains a light-hearted feel. Humor is a critical feature of the movie, and it is seamlessly woven into the plot. At one point, the party faces death at the hands of three mountain trolls who wish to eat them. The trolls are remarkably stupid and their attempts to catch Bilbo are most humorous. When they succeed in capturing Bilbo and the dwarves, Bilbo’s attempts to outwit them are nearly ruined by the equally-gullible dwarves, who require a jab from Thorin to avoid foiling Bilbo’s plan. The dangers faced by the group rarely lack some form of comedic element, retaining the warm sentiment of a children’s story.
The story is not afraid to poke fun at itself, but at the same time is able to handle very serious situations in a very serious manner. The Hobbit captures a perfect balance between the serious and the silly – a rarity, as many other films favor one extreme of the spectrum. During the dramatic confrontation between Thorin’s dwarves and a pack of orcs headed by a pale orc with a vendetta against Thorin, there is no humor to be had. The battlefield is ablaze due to a stalling tactic by Gandalf, and the pale orc, who detests Thorin for besting him in a fight many years previous, does battle once more with Thorin. The fight was a nail-biter for the ages, and its conclusion saw the point at which An Unexpected Journey will leave off to its 2013 sequel.
The Hobbit also features a good balance between exposition and raw action. The beginning of the film contains a large amount of backstory, which provides for a rather slow start. However, the information becomes crucial to the remainder of the story, and when the plot picks up it is quite superb. The pacing of the story after this point is good and it is sprinkled with high-quality, high-tension action scenes for good measure. The battles throughout the film have a very realistic feel, from Smaug’s violent pillaging of Erebor to the battle of wits shared between Bilbo and a mysterious cavedwelling creature called Gollum.
Peter Jackson, who also directed the three The Lord of the Rings films, has taken an excellent first step in establishing Tolkien’s The Hobbit in cinema. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is well worth the price of a ticket, be you an avid Tolkien fan or a first-timer to the entire series. Jackson’s excellent direction takes Tolkien’s legendary storytelling and breathes fresh life into it.
3.5 stars out of 4. MPAA rated PG-13. Run time 169 mins.