If The Lord of the Rings are the perfect film trilogy to introduce a teenager into the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkienís, then The Hobbit trilogy, the film adaptation of the prequel book to the Rings lore, could very well be a great film to introduce the younger crowds. While the former trilogy is certainly in a more adult-oriented fantasy (with some cute moments for the kids as well), The Hobbit attains a more whimsical, light-hearted affair that kids and adults could be sure to enjoy for the most part. Unfortunately, with this first outing from returning director Peter Jackson, there seems to be much bloat in this first film of the trilogy that entertains, as well as aggravates.
The Lord of the Rings films were films that seem to understand and work with their bloat, as these epic books that were adapted to film were full of detailed settings, characters, and plot. But, Jackson had a fairly tight rein with his three films of the book series, creating films that had the weight of the bookís mythology, but never feeling overbearing for the audience at hand. For The Hobbit, however, a 320-page book stretched into three films like a bit of a stretch (pun intended) for Peter Jackson. Do we need that much detail in a fairly simple book about the past adventure of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman as the younger self/ Ian Holm as his older self), joining with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to help a band of dwarfs take back their kingdom from a terrible dragon?
This is the inherent problem with The Hobbit itself; as Jackson wants to tell the original story, while also connect this trilogy entirely to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, mostly through appendices that Tolkien wrote to complete a bridge between Hobbit and the Rings trilogy. This brings scenes that are engaging for fans of the films and books, while also a bit cluttered for main plot concerning the dwarves. Itís just a mixed bag sadly, and sort of undercuts the main arc that revolves with Bilbo Baggins being an introvert hobbit, to the adventurer that he wanted to be when he was young.
But, the returning character from the original trilogy definitely brings back the joy that was mustered from years ago. Scenes with the motion-captured Gollum (Andy Serkis) are a great high point in the film, straddling the line between child-like and adult, much like the PG films in the 80s. A cool scene, even if it does stop the main story in its track, involving Gandalf, Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) that gives more personality and emotional connection between two of the four characters that felt fun and refreshing.
But, while there are mistakes in juggling between appendices and The Hobbit, Freeman is certainly a perfect, younger Bilbo. He exudes the overwhelmed and frustrated younger version so well, while also bringing the quick wittedness when he is backed into a corner involving Gollum, trolls, or goblins. Richard Armtiage as Thorin, the dwarf that leads the crusade to take back his homeland, exudes the gruff stubbornness that all the dwarves in Middle Earth have yield, and even gets some great backstory to further accompany his staunch and domineering stature. As for the rest of the dwarves, they are interchangeable for the most part, but they have enough personality that they bring humor and heart to the story.
As for the direction under Peter Jackson, he still knows how to make the world of Middle Earth feel epic and alive. From the sweeping shots of the New Zealand landscape to magnificent CGI structures of the goblin mines and caverns, Jackson still has a keen eye for how to bring Tolkienís world to life on the big screen. The only one minor nagging issue is that Jackson seems keener on utilizing fully CGI world, rather than complimenting prosthetics and the computer generated. Nothing thatís detrimental to the film, but it gave more physicality to the actorsí interacting with the world around them.
All in all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, while a bit dodgy in places for the first outing, feels like the perfect introduction for a parent that is a huge fan of Tolkienís work to introduce his younger son/daughter to the world of Middle Earth. Structurally, the film doesnít feel as cohesive as it could be and certain action scenes unfortunately feel like retreads to ones in the Rings trilogy, but perhaps thatís something the next two films could make up for.