The way I see it there are four different ways to evaluate The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. 1) as an adaptation of a novel, 2) as a comparison to any one of The Lord of the Rings films, 3) as the first part in an unnecessary trilogy and 4) as a single film at face value. While I have reservations of this short book being made into three films, I will try to set aside that judgement and look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at face value.
The beginning of the film oddly takes us back to one of the first scenes in The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, where old Bilbo Baggins (whom I always thought was way creepy) is about to celebrate his 111th birthday. Bilbo has begun writing his diary of adventures to give to his nephew Frodo. He recalls 60 years prior where Gandalf The Grey invites him to join a band of 13 dwarves who are emabrking on a quest to regain their homeland of Erebor. Bilbo learns that years ago, the Dwarf city of Erebor was attacked and captured by Smaug the dragon, who coveted the gold within the castle. Bilbo reluctantly joins in the adventure as the resident “burglar,” and the merry band makes their way through Middle-Earth and happens upon trolls, orcs, wizards and elves. After a pit stop in the Elf city of Rivendale, our dwarfy group battles goblins, Bilbo meets Gollum and also finds the titular ring of The Lord of the Rings.
Martin Freeman (Tim Canterbury/the British Jim Halpert) does a great job as Bilbo, who is a more humorous and defined character than Elijah Wood’s Frodo. Ian McKellen returns to his more jovial version of Gandalf, whose “crazy old uncle” vibe is more enjoyable than Gandalf The White. Though he wasn’t initially the director, it was nice having Peter Jackson behind the wheel again, providing a continuity bridge between both trilogies. The main thing that I must to commend the film on is its theme. It would have been easy for composer Howard Shore to reuse his powerful score from The Lord of the Rings, but instead he crafts a ballad unique to The Hobbit. I am humming it at this very moment in fact.
The Hobbit novel underwent revisions by J.R.R. Tolkien to accommodate and better tie-in to The Lord of the Rings after it was published. While the film version does have its own voice, it feels like a heavy portion of the story deals with conversations of “a dark power rising,” IE the events of The Lord of the Rings. What concerns me is that The Hobbit series might serve more as a three-part prelude instead of its own story. With too many damn dwarves, repetitive battles and stakes that feel extremely low, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is too long and is the least successful visit to Middle-Earth yet.
Final Grade: ★★★ 3/5