SYNOPSIS: Content Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is asked to join a company of dwarves at the request of wizard Gandalf the Grey on a quest to help the dwarves regain their kingdom from Smaug the Dragon.
REVIEW: Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Lovely Bones, returns to the reins of the story that made Jackson such a premiere and acclaimed director of our time. Writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson reunite to delve back into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien and the realms of Middle-Earth, with help from Guillermo del Toro who had spent two years on the project as writer and director before he relented the project back to Peter Jackson.
The unassuming and content Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, What's Your Number?) is thrust into an unexpected journey when traveling wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan, Apt Pupil) chooses the diminutive hobbit to join a company of dwarves led by Prince Thorin Oakenhield (Richard Armitage, Captain America: The First Avenger) set out on a quest to regain their kingdom lost sixty years earlier to the fire-breathing dragon Smaug. Passing out of the familiarity of the Shire and of Bags End, Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves find themselves battling orcs, goblins, and wargs on their way to the Lonely Mountain, forced to take help from the elfs Elrond (Hugo Weaving, Captain America: The First Avenger) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, Hanna), and finding themselves face-to-face with unexpected old enemies from years past. And Bilbo Baggins must muster enough courage to rise to the challenge that the rest of the company find themselves in, as well as deal with an unexpected rising evil in the form of a paranoid and possessive creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes).
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey comes from the first J.R.R. Tolkien book that visits Middle-Earth, halflings, dwarves, elves, goblins, wizards, and quests to be taken. Sixty years before Frodo (Elijah Wood, Happy Feet Two) inherented the One Ring, a younger Bilbo Baggins is enlisted by Gandalf the Grey to aid a clan of dwarves to take back their rightful kingdom taken by force by a fire dragon named Smaug who hoards the dwarves gold and treasure. In this, the first of three films to tell the tale of Mr. Baggins and his newfound band of wandering miners, Bilbo and the collection of farmers, metalsmiths, toy makers, a couple aging warriors, and a displaced prince, set out with the wizard toward the Lonely Mountain with only their gear, a key, and a map that none of them can hope to decipher. With lurking darkness and evil creeping back into the world, and old foes hunting down the dwarves, it does not take long before their quest to reclaim their birthright home is threatened.
The writing and directing team that brought to life J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings trilogy in an acclaimed and award-winning fashion return from the Wilderness, like the Ranger Aragorn, to the small book that started a young hobbit in the bloodline of Took on an adventure that would change him forever. Instead of rangers, warrior men, a troupe of hobbits, elves and a single dwarf,The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey focuses on Bilbo, Gandalf, and Thorin's loyal dwarves who heed the call to reclaim their kingdom of Erebor. Sure, a few characters returned in the form of Elrond, Galadriel, and Saruman the White (Christopher Lee, Dark Shadows), but there are many new characters to get acquainted with. Personal council Balin (Ken Stott, One Day) and warrior brawler Dwalin (Graham McTavish, Colombiana), close relatives of Thorin, follow the prince with unwavering resolve in his quest. Fortune seeker dwarfs of the West Bofur (James Nesbitt,Coriolanus), his brother Bombur (Stephen Hunter, Spirited), and cousin Bifur (William Kircher,Hold-Up) comes along on Thorin's quest for gold and the promise of free beer. Fili (Dean O'Gorman, Kawa) and Kili (Aiden Turner, Being Human), the youngest of Thorin's company, have been raised under the leadership of Thorin himself and are both skilled fighters with a love for music. Brothers Oin (John Callen, Love Birds) and Gloin (Peter Hambleton, The Last Tattoo) are Northern Dwarves and distant kin to Thorin, with heavily investment to the success of Thorin's quest. Finally, brothers Ori (Adam Brown), Nori (Jed Brophy, The Warrior's Way), and Dori (Mark Hadlow, King Kong) seem unlikely additions to the company, but do their best to look out for each other and the rest of the company.
Jackson and company pump up the thin 'The Hobbit' book with additional threats not used in the original narrative. Using characters from Appendix A of 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, the richness and depth of myth that Lord of the Rings offered is also included in this first installment of The Hobbit. Azog the Defiler, an Albino Orc, is a long-standing nemesis of Thorin from the campaigns where Thorin and his kin attempted to reclaim the mines of Moria from the Orcs and Goblins. Although Azog is a major villainous character in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, another threat in the form of a shadowed man only known as the Necromancer may become even more of a threat as the trilogy progresses.
The return to Middle-Earth has been highly anticipated, and Peter Jackson and company do not disappoint. We are treated to familiar and brand new characters alike. Martin Freeman, taking over the role of Bilbo Baggins from Ian Holm, is a delight to watch. Armitage's Thorin is steely and his presence gravitating. Gandalf returns in all his gruff, pre-White, wizarding ways. And Gollum returns, in all his CGI splendor, even more detailed and bi-polar than ever. From LOTR, we may have witnesses the capture of the One Ring by a hobbit named Smiegel, but we were never given the opportunity to see the game of riddles between Gollum and a younger Bilbo. Aside from the attention to detail to the characters, Jackson continues to lay out exact inspired Middle-Earth landscapes. With dramatic ariel camera shots of rolling plains and mountain peaks, detailed miniatures coupled with live-action and CGI insets, and intimate settings throughout, the mythos of Tolkien's vision comes to life in grand fashion - yet again.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a beautiful film with a story that speeds by. Knowing that this film is indeed the first of a trilogy, we must prepare for an ending that is an abrupt cliffhanger - unsatisfying for those who want the entire trilogy's story presented in marathon fashion. It is difficult to not compare the prequel The Hobbit with the original LOTR.
We know the ultimate ending of the story, so we know some of who will continue on the quest and eventually return home. LOTR's Aragorn and the company of the Fellowship of the Ring setting out from Rivendale was a diverse group of species working together for a common goal of good versus evil. The Hobbit does have a quest of good versus evil, as well, but may not live up to the grand epic thatLOTR was. As a minor fantasy epic, I think most will rightfully enjoy Bilbo's adventures.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a glorious return to the creatures and adventures of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. Even if the quest is not as epic as the destruction of the One Ring, all great quests begin with the smallest furry-footed Hobbit step!
★ ★ ★ ★ out of 5 buckets | Friday Night and DVD
Rated: PG-13 - Extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.
Release Date: December 14, 2012
Runtime: 2 hours 49 minutes
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aiden Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries