Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis

Plot: Gandalf The Grey recruits Bilbo Baggins on a mission to assist the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield and his brethren to reclaim their homeland from a dragon.

Review: When I first heard of this film, my first thought was "cash in". I mean, was it really necessary to make more movies about Middle Earth after Lord Of The Rings? Like that trilogy, The Hobbit will also be a trilogy of films, and each instalment will be just as long.

To be honest, after seeing this film, a return to Middle Earth doesn't seem like such a bad idea. The source material has always been strong and the characters are still as memorable as ever. But to say this matches up to the Lord Of The Rings may not be so accurate.

In this film, we go back 60 years before Bilbo Baggins celebrates his infamous 111th birthday and passes on the ring to Frodo. Back then, Bilbo is pretty much the same hobbit. He loves peace and quiet and enjoys smoking his pipe in his free time. And then Gandalf shows up on his doorstep with a group of dwarves, trying to recruit him to join their cause in reclaiming their fallen city of Erebor. It is this adventure where Bilbo learns a thing or two about courage, much like Frodo and his friends eventually will on their quest to destroy the ring later on. Bilbo also has his fateful meeting with Gollum and his first encounter with the ring.

Peter Jackson should be commended for having the tenacity to do this all over again. To his credit, Middle Earth looks as stunning as ever, from the beautiful Shire and Rivendell to the dark caverns of the goblins. From a technical standpoint, Jackson scores full marks, be it cinematography, costumes, visual effects, props etc.

Martin Freeman plays the younger Bilbo with a mixture of the older Bilbo's reluctance and the young Frodo's sense of honor. It helps that Freeman has a slight resemblance to Ian Holm, who returns for a short period at the beginning narrating the story. It is Ian McKellen though who continues to command presence as Gandalf, looking a bit older than the last time we saw him. Hugo Weaving impressively hasn't aged a day and looks every bit like Lord Elrond from the previous trilogy. Andy Serkis returns as Gollum and for once he didn't get on my nerves. His riddle sparring segment with Bilbo is one of my favorite things about this film. Not to be forgotten is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf prince who leads his fellow dwarves on this journey. Unlike Aragorn, he is a proud leader but a very capable one too.

As good as this film is, it is simply no match for Jackson's previous attempt in bringing Middle Earth to life. The scale from a technical and storytelling standpoint is vastly different. The original films had a very engaging plot and richer characters, whereas here, only Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin stand out, while the other dwarves are barely distinguishable from each other. Storywise this film is weaker too, as it starts to drag after the half mark, unlike the original films that kept you invested in it as long as it was still running.

Still, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fun watch and a welcome return to Tolkien's world. Perhaps the future two instalments can pick up the slack here and be really awesome. One can hope. (3.5/5)

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