Welcome back to another instalment of 4YE’s Big Movie Binge.
I started to watch this film with no expectations simply because I am such a fantasy noob. High fantasies such as The Hobbit aren’t exactly my cup of tea. I’m not completely sure why but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Peter Jackson manages to capture the luscious sprawl of Middle Earth while still remaining true to J.R.R Tolkien’s vision despite it being more than ten years since Jackson first stomped around in this world. Not only does the film deliver on gorgeous cinematic moments, the cast is fantastic and well rounded. My only quibble is: why must it be three hours long?
The Hobbit begins in The Shire with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) of Bagend being visited by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan). Gandalf met Bilbo when he was a young boy and saw spirit and adventure in him. When the dwarves of Erebor lose their home to the tyrannical dragon Smaug, Gandalf approaches Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) with the idea of taking Erebor back from the dragon. In order to do that, they need a “burglar”. Bilbo is that burglar but Bilbo wants nothing to do with it. Gandalf, however, has a few tricks up his sleeve and once Bilbo is inundated with thirteen dwarves on a quest back to Erebor, he decides to leave the Shire on an adventure.
Of course, the adventure is dangerous and through the course of the movie, the dwarves are almost eaten by trolls, killed by orcs, and beheaded by goblins. Along the way, Bilbo meets Gollum and comes into possession of the most powerful piece of jewellery in Middle Earth: The One Ring.
There is a lot to unpack in this film and as someone who has no idea of the lore behind it, it took me a long time to understand what in the world was going on and, to be honest, I’m still not completely sure what’s going on. However, one thing is for certain Peter Jackson knows his Middle Earth and it shows in every single frame and shot and set piece.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is absolutely beautiful. It’s more than beautiful, it’s exquisite. Each land the audience visits clearly has a well thought out backstory and Jackson handles it with ease. The goblins are creepy and live under the Misty Mountains, and the Mountains are incredible despite being infested by goblins and one very twisted and mutated hobbit by the name of Gollum. Rivendell is an equally gorgeous Elven realm and their sister realm of the Woodland Elves, lead by the ethereal Thandruil (Lee Pace), are both well built and similar in design but it’s also interesting to see the differences that these two realms present the audience. Rivendell is obviously very water based and the Woodland elves, well, that’s only obvious by the huge rack of tree branches Thandruil uses as a crown when we see him in the beginning in Erebor.
I also loved Bilbo’s home. Who wouldn’t love a Hobbit home? It’s so quaint and woody and earthy. There are also a lot of little touches here and there that speak to Bilbo as a character. (I mean, he knows what crochet is and has doilies. He’s such a little homebody it’s so adorable.) I think my favorite part while they’re in Bilbo’s home is when Gandalf runs into Bilbo’s chandelier. It clearly shows just how small hobbit homes are compared to other creatures in Middle Earth.
To top off the gorgeous production quality of this film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey boasts some pretty talented names in its cast. Cate Blanchett as Galadriel was perhaps the biggest surprise. I wasn’t expecting her to be featured so early in the Lord of the Rings lore but it was so nice to get a glimpse of her and Gandalf’s relationship. (Holy crap, I know nothing, I know, but dang I shipped them so hard after this film. I want to see more of them. Blanchett and McKellen work well off of each other and I don’t even know their full backstory!) Also, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield I can’t swoon over him enough. Eye candy aside, Thorin is one of the best characters I’ve seen in a film recently. Armitage really knows how to dig down deep into the psyche of a broken dwarf who’s lost everything. But, he also digs deep into the things that make dwarves so dangerous. Thorin is a king who is susceptible to the madness that loving gold and riches bring these race of people and there’s no doubt that Armitage is fantastic at portraying that.
Another stunning performance comes from Martin Freeman. The casting directors knew what they were doing when they cast him as Bilbo. I fell in love with Freeman in Sherlock and his portrayal of Bilbo in this film is nothing short of amazing. (No, that was not a pun. I promise.) Freeman is really hitting all the nails on the head in this role. He’s funny, serious, fed up, and ready for adventure while simultaneously wanting nothing more than to be at home in the Shire. It is really adorable.
The only issue I have with this film is why is it so long? I know I asked that already in the beginning but seriously. I struggled with this pacing. Perhaps because it’s the first film in The Hobbit series and there needs to be a level of exposition to build up what’s going on and what’s going to happen. Either way, I found myself really waning a bit in the movie’s slower passages. However, not everything that seems slow is slow. There is a lot of exposition in this film so it’s a good idea to keep track and pay attention.
Overall, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fitting first foray into Middle Earth. Join me tomorrow for my review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug!