Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellan, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Sylvester McCoy and Andy Serkis as Gollum
Plot: A company of dwarves set out on a quest to retake their old kingdom from a tyrannical dragon, Smaug, but in order to reach success, they need to find help from the most unlikely of creatures: a Hobbit.
It’s back. Some might have disapproved of the fact that, despite having absolutely no intention of returning to Middle-Earth when Return of the King was finished, Peter Jackson has decided to make a movie out of the Hobbit. Correction, three movies. Surely, that three part epic was a once in a lifetime event. Making it a twice in a lifetime event cheapens the brilliant masterpiece of film that was the original trilogy. But at the same time, everyone began feeling the chills down their spine, when it came closer to the release date, when we would finally get thrown back into this wonderful universe.
For the most part, this film is a raging success. I could talk about Peter Jackson’s keen eye for scenery, wonderfully soaking in every gorgeous backdrop of Middle-Earth. I could talk about how the CGI is once again some of the most breath-taking visuals we have had in cinema for a long time (admittedly, he did drop the ball with the goblins). I could also talk about how every casting choice is superb with Martin Freeman symbolising the reluctant hero perfectly and how Richard Armitage copes with the tricky task of following Viggo Mortensen’s much loved Aragorn. But deep down, these things were always going to work out. Despite all of its flaws, An Unexpected Journey is saved by the fact that Peter Jackson is a director at the top of his game. Despite initial fears, The Hobbit is a welcome return to this universe.
Flaws? Ah, yes, well An Unexpected Journey was far from a homerun in terms of success. In fact, when all six movies are done and we put them all together, I am fairly certain that this will be classed the weakest in terms of story and pacing. For one, it does take ages to get started. It is forty minutes before the characters even get into their first skirmish, the running time made up of bumbling gags. It is good content, but we end up checking our watches and wondering when Peter Jackson will actually get to the good bits. Desolation of Smaug may be just as long as An Unexpected Journey, but at least the time there was worthwhile and fun. An Unexpected Journey begins to drag. It also, at times, feels like a re-hashed version of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. We get a slow start in the Shire, a chase scene between the company and some bad guys, then a brief pit stop in Rivendell. The quest starts again by going through a treacherous mountain. When that falls through, it is into some familiar looking mines, where they encounter a battle that takes up most of the movie. And then there is a fight in a wooded area to tie up the first part. It feels like The Fellowship, but less fun and not as well made. In fairness, that might not be An Unexpected Journey’s fault. With Fellowship, we didn’t know just how good Middle-Earth could get, not yet treated to the visuals and excitement of the siege of Helm’s Deep. Here, we just feel that we are being treated to several teasers for the next, better parts of the trilogy (cue to glancing shots of spiders, necromancers and an angry dragon).
Also, this feels a lot more child-like than Lord of the Rings. Yes, I understand that the Hobbit was written for children and the Lord of the Rings was written for adults, but there were scenes that I just couldn’t get on with. In Fellowship, the best moment was the fight with the Cave Troll. The trolls in Unexpected Journey were little more than a funny moment before we got to the good stuff. It was impossible to take them seriously. The same goes for the Goblinking. He was basically a glorified pantomime villain and I couldn’t stand the fact that we were spending time with him, rather than Manu Bennett’s terrifying Azog the Defiler. Humour does play an important part in these trilogies, but I think it gets too out of control here. Middle Earth humour works better with passing lines and expressions. Funnier moments were blink and you miss it lines from the dwarves getting used to salads or Gandalf frowning when he is given the smallest glass of wine imaginable. Points go to Sylvester McCoy who, coming from the school of Doctor Who, takes this oddball humour and works really well with it. More of Radagast, please.
I am making it sound as though I hate this movie, but I really don’t. I loved it. I merely think that it pales when put against the other films. As I said, you will still get the thrills you expect from Lord of the Rings movies. Peter Jackson also knows when to stick the breaks on. If you are getting tired of the busy visuals and grand set-pieces, when we get to the game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum, the film suddenly becomes a brilliant piece of cinema. Martin Freeman, the most impressive newcomer, and Andy Serkis, easily the best performance in the original trilogy, bounce off each other so well, helped by a terrific script that lays both of these enjoyable personalities on the table. The entire movie is worth owning on DVD just for this amazing scene.
Final Verdict: Yes, it isn’t as good as the other films, but we still get amazing visuals, great performances and memorable cinema.