Eventually documenting his feats in an epic story, Bilbo Baggins’s journey starts with an unexpected visit from Gandalf the Grey. Sending a group of dwarfs to his hobbit hole, Bilbo is taken off guard by his rowdy visitors. When it is finally revealed that he is meant to be a thief and new member of the clan, Bilbo only hesitates for a moment before chasing down the group and going off on the journey. The destination of the group is Moria, the former stronghold of the dwarves prior to the attack of the dragon. Though a past attempt only led to the death of his grandfather, Thorin, leader of the dwarves, leads the group across Middle Earth. Along the way, they encounter the elves of Rivendell, orcs in the plains and trouble on the mountain pass. Bilbo also encounters a creature of the shadows, Gollum, and a great golden ring that has a power that he can only begin to understand.
Starring: Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur/Tom Troll), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin/William Troll), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori/Bert Troll), Adam Brown (Ori), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Christopher Lee (Saruman), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Sylvester McCoy (Radagast), Barry Humphries (Great Goblin), Jeffrey Thomas (Thror), Manu Bennett (Azog)
While a few of the Lord of the Rings cast reappeared in this film but the main focus is on that of a young Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman, and the band of dwarves. Freeman has a jittery charm that makes for a flawed hero. McKellen returns with his classic wit and vigor. Andy Serkis takes Gollum to the next level, presenting his bipolar mind in greater conflict. Armitage joins the story with a stubbornness of a leader damaged by his past. Weaving, Blanchett, Wood and Lee all provide memorable appearances to help get this story started.
While Tolkien’s story took place in only one book, Peter Jackson has discovered a way to expand the universe and the story into three films, starting with An Unexpected Journey. With a brief prelude including an older Bilbo Baggins and his nephew Frodo, the film started with an account that reflected on the events that led to the fall of the dwarf kingdom and the rise of a great evil. Once they got a young Bilbo to join the band of dwarves, they challenged him to leave everything he knew behind. Through a couple of significant battles, Bilbo comes into possession of both Sting, the orc-sensing sword, and the ring. Getting a taste of its power, Bilbo escaped Gollum and finally found his courage during the fight against Azog and the orcs.
What may come as a bit difficult to understand is how the single book can be expanded into three films. While The Hobbit does have a number of mentions and smaller stories that have little description or discussion, Jackson decided to expand on those smaller stories and add other elements created by by Tolkien. It is still remaining to be seen what elements will be brought to play, who the Necromancer will be and whether the series will be able to stand up against the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
This film not only represents a significant adaptation of a piece of the story but also a significant technological advancement in film. Besides being shot in 3D, the film was also captured in 48 frames per second. The images definitely appear as they are moving much faster than regular speed, requiring the eyes to readjust before it appears more at a regular rate. While the landscape is just as beautiful as the original trilogy, the 3D does little to add to the ambiance.
While the film is quite enjoyable and there are a number of intriguing elements that foreshadow how the series will continue to be portrayed, the first film did not live up to the hype of Jackson’s glory. The universe is preserved and the characters are memorable, but it just seemed to fall a bit short and relied a little too much on the increased projection technology.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5