Naturally fans of the movies all wondered if Peter Jackson would ever get around to adapting The Hobbit, the rather child-friendly prequel to the core trilogy that centered on Bilbo Baggins. Initially hew as pretty adamant that he would not be involved but over the years the arguments went all back and forth until we did end up with Peter Jackson not just producing the movie but also directing it as well.
Did we really need this movie to be made? Well, maybe, since we all love Peter Jackson's vision of Middle-Earth. Did we need more than one movie based on a single book? Perhaps, but only because no single movie can perfectly adapt every part of any book. But did we need for this movie to be a trilogy? Now there I definitely draw the line and say that's just going way overboard for this franchise.
Synopsis: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of three movies adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. It was produced, directed and co-written by Peter Jackson together with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro (who was at one time slated to direct this movie as well).
The movie starts with Bilbo (Ian Holm) in his old age, just about to celebrate his 111th birthday as was seen in The Fellowship of the Ring. He has decided to write his memoirs of an adventure that he undertook some time ago. Now this particular story begins with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) visiting a much younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). He manages to arrange things such that his home becomes the meeting place of a gathering of dwarves about to undertake an adventure.
The group, as led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), is determined to retake the legendary dwarf city of Erebor underneath what is known as the Lonely Mountain. Many years ago it had been one of the greatest cities of the dwarven kingdom until it had been taken by a dragon named Smaug. Thorin is the grandson of the original king of Erebor and only wants to retake what is rightfully theirs and give the dwarves a new home. But Bilbo is more than just their host for their little meeting - he is being invited to join as their burglar, as recommended by Gandalf himself. Thus Bilbo needs to decide if he'll continue his simple, happy life in the Shire or take that first risk and go on a true adventure.
Now before you ask, no, I did not watch the movie in the new HFR 3D format. I'm just not a big fan of 3D movies and I don't see how simply increasing the frame rate will make me like the format more or enjoy the fact that 3D always makes the movies darker. I just wanted to focus on the story - and admittedly not have to pay the extra ticket price for the new format.
There are a total of 12 dwarves who are for the most part quite masterfully done from a make-up and costumes perspective. They each have distinct personalities that somehow reflect their often elaborate facial hair. Although not all dwarves are created equally - for some reason Kili (Aidan Turner) and Fili (Dean O'Gorman) had a bit less make-up than others to somehow make them the least dwarfish, and yet potentially among the prettiest, from a fan perspective. At least that's how I see things.
But the number of dwarves on-screen does lead to other problems - just trying to tell them apart during the big action sequences. Instead they degenerate into a bunch of stereotypical grunts that can be characterized as being either Scottish or Irish in nature (depending on the character). This is not entirely a bad thing depending on what you're looking for, but it does mean a distinct lack of character development for most of them. Distinct make-up does not equal character development.
On the other hand, the movie did have some great action sequences, something we've come to expect from Peter Jackson. I most liked how the dwarves seemed to work as a true unit with some pretty elaborate and highly coordinated attacks whether against larger foes like mountain trolls or groups of enemies such as the goblins. In this regard, I have to give the creative team a lot of credit for choreographing all that.
There were moments when the voice acting for the CGI characters was a bit off. Sure we all loved Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the mountain trolls were adorable but I didn't quite get the decision to cast Barry Humphries as the Great Goblin, since his voice just seemed so out-of-place compared to everyone else. It's like we all expected him to suddenly break out into a stand-up comedy routine. And maybe this is an issue of a more personal nature, but it really didn't work out for me.
The movie was still fun, but definitely ran rather long. We can only enjoy transition sequences of the company marching and running across various aspects of New Zealand landscape before things start to become rather tiring. And the comedic elements in the movie sort of disrupted some aspects for me, like how Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) was turned into a rather ridiculous mushroom addict.
Still, The Hobbit movies are already here and we're all going to watch them and An Unexpected Journey is just the very beginning of this adventure. Thus I give the movie 4 little CGI rabbits pulling a ridiculous sled out of a possible 5.