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The Hobbit: An Enjoyable Traipse Through Tolkien-land

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

When Peter Jackson got a hold of The Hobbit, like an angry troll (as though there is any other kind) he decided to stretch it and stretch it, moving it from one rollicking little book, to three full length feature films. Fortunately, even though you can see the stretch marks, particularly if you knew the original, Jackson is a consummate storyteller and he weaves a wonderful tale of magic and adventure that lives up to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, even if it sacrifices much of the original to do it.

However, before we get into the merits of the film, let’s just get one thing out of the way. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey did not need to be in 3D. With the exception of one scene, the effects are pretty ordinary (and by ordinary we mean ordinary Peter Jackson standards which is way above par). What I mean is, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is no more visually gripping than The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was a visually stirring set of films. That said, the film is certainly worth a twirl in the cinema even if like me, you are annoyed because you have to wear two sets of glasses at once.

If you hadn’t bothered to grab a hold of the novel The Hobbit before the movie hit, it’s the story which features how Bilbo Baggins came to be in the possession of The Great Ring of Power which became the subject of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. An Unexpected Journey tells about a third of the tale as we follow Bilbo, delightfully played by Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Office) as he is lured into deviating from his Hobbit ways and have go on a quest with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 12 dwarves.

In many ways, An Unexpected Journey is not so unexpected and to a large degree that’s a good thing. An Unexpected Journey lives up to Jackson’s reputation for creating films that are visually arresting and populated by engaging and stimulating characters.  Additionally, as with LOTR the film features great cinematography and yes you find yourself up craggy treacherous mountain paths,   staring at wide sweeping vistas and in deep dark caves where dangerous orc and goblins live. The film is replete with great visual effects, which includes The Goblin King (or Great Goblin) is among the brilliantly done special effects. He is a slothful monstrosity who appears to be Jabba the Hut’s less attractive brother.

And, of course there is Smeagol (Andy Serkis). Smeagol remains one of the highlights of the film. His encounter with Bilbo beneath the goblin enclave is one of the high points of the film as Smeogol switches between looking vulnerable and in need of affection and being a nasty, slimy beastie.

In many ways An Unexpected Journey is radically different from Tolkien’s novel. The Hobbit was the lightest of the books and the first to blossom from Tolkien's magical pen. Unlike The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit was clearly written for children and was therefore far more lighthearted. The film however tries to keep in line with its cinematic predecessors and is therefore more clearly targeted at an adult audience. This also means there is a lot of fighting, though relatively little blood.

Even so, despite its darker mood, An Unexpected Journey, attempts to maintain some of the novel’s the lighthearted delight. As such, although it, like its LOTR film predecessors is filled with action, the fighting sequences are more in keeping with an action comedy. The dwarves are also an important part of keeping this lighter note. Most of the Dwarves are have faces which look as though they came out of a Sleeping Beauty colouring book, with the exception of Thorin.

In keeping with the rules of Hollywood, as Thorin has to play the hero, he is the only good looking Dwarf to ever grace this film or the LOTR trilogy, because a hero cannot look silly. A hero must be smouldering and brooding and Richard Armitage smoulders and broods very well.

Indeed, to moan about the ways in which An Unexpected Journey deviates from the original in order to pander to Hollywood movie expectations, is really to tickle a dead horse. Let’s face it, we’ve all drunk the Quench Aid and so know what to expect, and when it is done well, we enjoy it.

But most importantly, An Unexpected Journey is a fun, engaging well made film. It feels like the start of the journey, and fails to leave you with the breathlessness inspired by The Fellowship of the Ring, possibly because Jackson recycles much of the LOTR formula. Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable traipse through Tolkein-land, and its a journey we certainly can be convinced to take.