The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

WRITTEN BY: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro
DIRECTED BY: Peter Jackson
STARRING: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
RATING: 3.5 stars

Orcs, trolls, elves, wizards, giant spiders and dwarves are just some of the mythical wonders we encounter in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I was 12 years old when I read the book (known as The Hobbit and also There And Back Again) and immediately embraced the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien. So, I was quite excited to see this film and I'm happy to say that fans of the book will probably enjoy it. The film stays relatively true to the novel but director/co-writer Peter Jackson has taken some liberties with it. I suppose he had to considering the film is the first of a trilogy and the book is only about 250 pages long. There just isn't enough material like there was for his previous The Lord of The Rings trilogy. However, the way he has added more characters and substance to the story works because he brings characters from his previous films to please fans of that trilogy and link the franchises together quite nicely.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place about 60 years before Frodo (Elijah Wood) began his quest to return the "precious" ring in The Lord of The Rings. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) enjoys a simple life until wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) chooses him to help 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug. It is during this adventurous journey that Bilbo meets Gollum (Andy Serkis) and discovers the ring.

Even though I knew what was coming in the plot, it only made me frustrated at how slow-moving the first 45 minutes were. It took far too long to establish itself with a drawn out dinner scene with Bilbo and the dwarves. Anyone not familiar with the story was probably even more bored and wondering how they were going to stay awake for the next few hours. But, once the story was finally set up, the plot moved a little quicker and was at least consistently action-packed with adventure and entertaining battle scenes. The film, like the book, is a lot lighter, funnier and child-friendly than The Lord of The Rings trilogy. Having said that, some of the creatures may still be scary for young children, so keep that in mind. The film is also visually stunning. If there's one thing Jackson knows how to do, it's create beautiful cinema. The 48 frames per second 3D effects were also top notch and it's worth paying a little extra to see it in 3D. Some may find it a little uncomfortable at first, but most will quickly adjust and enjoy the 3D technology.

The scene where we meet Gollum is probably my favourite. It's creepy, hilarious and fun to watch. Serkis is wonderful. Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee all reprise their roles too and there is also a few other cameos. Ian McKellen is as entertaining as ever returning as Gandalf and Freeman is a great choice to play Bilbo. Armitage is also convincing in his performance as the heroic yet arrogant and pained Thorin. Unfortunately, the film doesn't develop some of its characters enough, especially Thorin's fellow dwarves. There are so many of them and few have any real personality.

While I still have my reservations about the length of the film, which is nearly three hours, I still enjoyed The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I'm not sure how Jackson will sustain two more films that are around the same length, but we shall wait and see.