“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” continues a universally acclaimed series, but ultimately cannot stand on its own as a film.
Following the huge success of director Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Trilogy, which netted nearly three billion dollars worldwide, the production of a prequel appealed to the Tolkien-loving public as well as to Hollywood.
The movie is the first in a trilogy that will cover the not-so-vast expanse of Tolkein’s novel “The Hobbit,” which is notably shorter than any other book regarding Middle Earth. It covers the beginnings of the adventure that Bilbo (Martin Freeman) and the Dwarvish leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) along with his troop of raucous dwarves take across Middle Earth to recapture the Dwarves’ lost kingdom of Erebor from the vicious dragon Smaug.
Along the way, the merry band battles trolls, orcs and goblins, and Bilbo departs from his troupe to grapple with Gollum (Andy Serkis) to win the One Ring, which caused much conflict in the previous LOTR films.
The Hobbit matches its predecessors in its bold, beautiful cinematography. The film brought the matchless milieu of Middle-Earth to life with breathtaking visuals of Rivendale and the countryside and fear-inducing CGI representations of goblins and Gollum. The cinematography is simultaneously realistic and fantastical, bringing the audience into the fictional world.
But the film is lacking in the character development that earned Ian McKellen (Gandalf) his Oscar nomination for the first LOTR movie in 2002. The original trilogy featured characters that brought a range of emotions to the audience: you cheered for some, booed for others, and sighed for the star-crossed lovers Aragorn and Arwen. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” lacks the same emotional appeal.
While the movie attempts to pull at heartstrings with the plight of the displaced dwarves, real substance is traded for cartoonish villains and dwarvish antics that bring cheap laughs. Granted, Smaug, the novel’s most terrifying malefactor, has yet to make an appearance, so hopefully the next two films will improve upon their predecessor in this area.
The movie’s exaggerations and departures from the original novel’s plot (designed to fill the space of a trilogy) prove to be cringe-worthy for both LOTR aficionados and casual moviegoers. The appearance of the wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) may only astound major Hobbit devotees (he is mentioned only once in the novel), but his sled drawn by giant, nimble rabbits is laughably senseless for all audience members.
Overall, “The Hobbit” is a strong film, but deserves its Oscar snubs. Hopefully the next installment (“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”) will exceed the low expectations set by its precursor and bring the charm of Middle Earth and the depth of the original novel back to the silver screen.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” runs 2 hours and 46 minutes, and is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and frightening images.