Sunday, December 23, 2012
An Unexpected Journey: 1/3 of The Hobbit Trilogy and 1/3 of a Great Movie
The story is set 60 years before the events of Lord of the Rings: Bilbo Baggins (now portrayed by a younger Martin Freeman instead of Ian Holm of the original Rings films) is living a nice quiet life on the hillside, with gorgeous sunlit views and scrumptious food. Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, who hasn't missed a beat since playing the The Grey in the original trilogy) shows up, smoking his peace pipe, and he convinces Bilbo to go on an adventure (an unexpected journey, if you will). So in walk 13 dwarfs, and the group sets out on dangerous mission...wait, no they don't. Jackson focuses on these new characters for as long as time will allow: they eat all of Bilbo's food, make fun of Bilbo, tell stories, sing songs, and put away dishes quicker than the forest animals in Snow White. They try to convince Bilbo to go, but he's reluctant. They try to convince him even more--a clear problem in trying to expand this story into three films.
Inevitably, off they go on their adventure! The dwarfs are led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and they are questing across Middle Earth to attempt to reclaim their homeland, The Lonely Mountain, which is now the lair of a powerful Dragon named Smaug (we see barely a glimpse of the fire-breather in this installment). Bilbo and Gandalf tag along for moral support. Even the most devoted fans of the Rings universe will grow somewhat weary of the proceedings: there's a lot of walking and talking and orc-fighting, then more running and yelling and vacationing at an Elvish resort that almost put me to sleep. There's no real tension or danger: we know Bilbo lives because he's a character in Lord of the Rings, we know there are two more installments in this story, and every single time the group is super far up shit creek, Gandalf casts a spell or kisses a butterfly and enemies turn to stone or giant eagles swoop in to carry the group to safety.
Late into the run time of An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo falls down into a cave that is patrolled by a Rings favorite, Gollum (portrayed brilliantly with motion capture by Andy Serkis, again). He adds an excitement and danger that had been lacking in the film until that point, especially when he loses his ring and suspects Bilbo of the thievery. But this feeling is really just nostalgia for the original Rings trilogy, when excitement, danger and tension lurked among every dark place like a ring wraith waiting for the kill. There was no filler, because there was no time for filler. The same can't be said for this first third of The Hobbit story, though Peter Jackson did do something correctly: he left plenty of room for improvement. (C+)