Sean K. Cureton

Jackson’s Hobbit Trilogy off to a Good but Beleaguered Start

In Movie Reviews: 2012 on December 27, 2012 at 5:27 pm

Theatrical Poster


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
3 out of 4 stars

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film in a planned trilogy to be released over the next three years based on the classic and beloved J.R.R. Tolkien novel The Hobbit. Under the careful direction of Peter Jackson, this trilogy, which is the prequel to Jackson’s masterpiece Lord of the Rings trilogy, is off to an unexpectedly good start. While separating Tolkien’s rather short novel into three feature length films is admittedly a bad idea, Jackson’s knowledge and love of Tolkien’s work and his prior experience and hand in creating a cinematic Middle-Earth in the Lord of the Rings trilogy about ten years ago brings a lot of promise to this new Tolkien trilogy. While a lot of the film could have been cut, and the overall pacing can tend to be slow and meandering, Jackson’s new film still holds true to the spirit of Tolkien’s novel, making An Unexpected Journey just as wonderful a beginning as The Fellowship of the Ring was in 2001.

This first film in The Hobbit trilogy covers the first six chapters of the original novel, which totals to just about 100 pages of narrative. Obviously, 100 pages is not a lot of material to cover, and the plot in that 100 pages only gets to about 3 or 4 major plot points, including the popular “Riddles in the Dark” chapter with Gollum. In order to add more action to this first film, Jackson has added a whole side plot to The Hobbit, consisting of a history of the dwarves wherein the story of a war between the dwarves and an army of orcs lead by a chief orc with a grudge against Thorin, the default leader of the dwarves in the film’s narrative, is told. From a purely analytical stand point, this dwarf/orc sub-plot is completely unnecessary, and only serves to complicate and muddle Tolkien’s originally flawless narrative, not to mention the fact that this subplot serves to lengthen the film to a staggering length of 169 minutes. However, from a fan’s stand point, Jackson’s ability to tell cinematic stories about Middle Earth is just so mesmerizing and magical that one is able to forgive the indulgences of the dwarf/orc side-plot, not to mention the film’s other created side-plots, and ultimately enjoy all of them for their respective strengths and abilities to entertain.

Luckily, An Unexpected Journey is not chiefly concerned with its side-plots, but ultimately focuses on Bilbo, Gandalf, and the Dwarves journey to reclaim the stolen dwarves’ treasure from the dragon Smaug. However, as this film only covers the first 100 pages of Tolkien’s novel, Bilbo’s journey only progresses to the point after Bilbo’s escape from Gollum and his ultimate acceptance as a member of the dwarves’ party of burglars and thieves. While this short segment from the larger narrative concerning Bilbo’s journey works as a means of highlighting Bilbo’s journey to an acceptance of the film trilogy’s larger journey, it is also regrettably absent of any true progression in plot, and another source of the film’s indulgent slowness of pace. Nevertheless, this aspect of Jackson’s new trilogy can also be enjoyed from a fan’s stand point, who will no doubt be so completely immersed in Jackson’s cinema imagery and magic that they will not be in the least bit bored, although they should be and probably are aware of such a problem.

Peter Jackson’s first film in the planned Hobbit trilogy is good, and will be sure to delight and over joy fanatics of The Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the Tolkien faithful. However, due to the film’s tedious length and over indulgence in created side-plots and larger narrative-arcs, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is ultimately not nearly as perfect as any of the Lord of the Rings films, and doesn’t hold much promise for anyone not already in love with the Tolkien universe created in Jackson’s initial trilogy situated in Middle-Earth. While this reviewer loved this film and is eagerly anticipating the next two installments in the trilogy, it would be remiss to let such a bias make up for the myriad shortcomings in the set up of this new Tolkien trilogy.

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