Delving back into the land of Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth was like going to a reunion of friends or family that I haven't seen in nearly a decade. Sure, some things have changed, and feelings are maybe a bit different, but after awhile that air of familiarity returns as you settle into the comfort of your surroundings and your wonderful memories resurface that this is home.
Watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gave me that warm sense of familiarity since I have such fond memories of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's no secret that those three films are amongst my favourite fantasy films of all time so, needless to say, I was highly anticipating this latest foray into Tolkien's world. Because of this however, I find it truly difficult to put on a critic hat when watching a film like this. I would rather just enjoy it as a fan.
And I will say that if you are a fan of the Rings movies then you are sure to enjoy just about every minute of The Hobbit. Sure I could get nit-picky about the pacing in the first half of the film. It does seem to take a long time to get going, spending maybe a tad too much time in the Shire setting up the story and introducing the principal characters, but it really wasn't any longer than in the Fellowship of the Ring so I didn't have any issues with that. After all, Peter Jackson has decided to make this short novel into a trilogy so he naturally needs time to lay the groundwork for what is to come, and I think that when all is said and done and all three films have been released that people will look back on this film and not even think about it being slow at all.
The story is set 60 years before the events of Fellowship and Bilbo Baggins (now played by Martin Freeman) is just trying to enjoy a peaceful life in the Shire when Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) decides to recruit him for an adventure. The ancient Dwarf kingdom of Erebor has been taken over by the nasty dragon Smaug and all of their gold and riches have been lost. The noble leader of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), along with twelve other Dwarves, seek out to reclaim their lost kingdom and in order to do so they need a burglar to figure out how to get inside the mountain fortress. Gandalf has tabbed Bilbo for this task, and despite serious resistance and reluctance, he eventually agrees to go on this journey. Along the way they encounter various obstacles in the form of Trolls, Orcs, Goblins and other magical creatures.
This film is somewhat reminiscent of Fellowship in that much of it is establishing the characters and providing exposition. It is essentially a prelude for things to come, but thankfully Peter Jackson provides plenty of perilous situations for the group to encounter and overcome in order to keep the film exciting and highly entertaining. The set pieces are fabulous in the Hobbit and the visuals are absolutely stunning. The majestic landscapes of New Zealand (where the film was shot) are showcased beautifully and will remind you of some of the great action sequences in the prior three films. Even though he has added material that wasn't in the original novel, it works because it makes it feel more like an actual prequel to the Rings films and ties everything together quite well. Fans of the novel will be very happy to see that he shows the wonderful Riddles in the Dark sequence involving Gollum almost in its entirety. This is a crucial part to the overall story and one of the great standout moments of this film. Once again I loved Andy Serkis' portrayal of Gollum. He is incredible.
The performances all around are solid, especially Martin Freeman, who capably fills the shoes of Ian Holm as the younger Bilbo. He really captures the spirit of the character who just wants to enjoy the simple things in life but is thrust into becoming a courageous hero. Richard Armitage is quite good as the noble warrior Thorin Oakenshield. He is this film's version of Aragorn played by Viggo Mortensen in the trilogy. Of course Ian McKellan is superb as Gandalf. He falls back into the role with great ease and it's fun seeing him be a little bit flawed this time with slightly less power than we are used to seeing. There are some surprise appearances by some familiar characters that I won't ruin but they are a welcome sight indeed.
I didn't get a chance to see this film in the new 48 frames per second, instead just watching it in regular 3D so I can't comment on the difference in visual quality. I will say that the version I saw was quite spectacular in its own right and the use of 3D was effective and not overdone.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a little bit lighter in tone than its predecessors, and in that regard it is also a lot of fun. There are several humorous moments throughout interspersed amongst the turmoil and adventure.
I truly enjoyed every minute of my trip back to Middle-Earth and I am eagerly awaiting what Peter Jackson has in store for us next December when The Desolation of Smaug is released.
Fans everywhere can rejoice that we are once again able to immerse ourselves into the world of J.R.R. Tolkien and have a blast while doing it.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a trip well worth taking my friends.
I give The Hobbit a 9 out of 10 (critic hat = 8, fanboy hat = 10)