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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, director Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's stand-alone quest through Middle-earth, is less violent than the scarier Lord of the Rings trilogy. But there are definitely some frightening sequences, like the battle between the dragon and the dwarves of Erebor, during which one character is decapitated, another has an arm amputated, and there's mass destruction. The group of Bilbo, Gandalf, and 13 dwarves is often tracked and pursued and nearly killed several times, but they manage to avoid death -- at least in this installment. Bilbo (like Frodo and his friends in the LOTR movies) again shows that size doesn't matter when it comes to making a difference.
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What's the story?
Peter Jackson's first installment in his three-part adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY starts off with an eleventy-one-year-old Bilbo Baggins (played once again by Ian Holm) narrating the tale of how he, a mellow hobbit from the Shire, ended up enmeshed in a dangerous quest. Sixty years before The Fellowship of the Ring is formed, a considerably younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) sets off an the titular Unexpected Journey with his friend Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to help 13 dwarves reclaim their homeland -- the kingdom of Erebor, which was taken over by a killer, gold-seeking dragon that forced the dwarves into exile. The motley crew, led by Gandalf and the smoldering heir to the Erebor throne, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), encounter two-and-a-half hours of conflict (most notably with the bloodthirsty orcs) with a brief respite found in the elven homeland of Rivendell, where Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) offers Gandalf her unconditional support.
Is it any good?
Despite issues with length and pacing, there's no denying this is a production worth seeing, especially with kids new to Tolkien's detailed universe. As a novel, The Hobbit skews younger than The Lord of the Rings, so it's only natural that the film is also more accessible for tweens -- just have them look the other way for a few of the darker battle sequences. The story is simple enough, and the visuals are dazzling (the 48 frames per second rate is neither as spectacular or headache-inducing as rumors would have you believe). The acting is admirable, including the return of our favorite wizard, Gandalf, Lady of Lorien Galadriel, and head elf Elrond (Hugo Weaving). Unfortunately, the dwarves all sort of blend together in a tangle of hair and mischief, with the notable exception of the broody Thorin and his swashbuckling nephews, Fili and Kili (Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner).
The main issue with Jackson's adaptation is that the run time is brutal, even for hardcore fans of Jackson's epic LOTR trilogy. Whereas that trilogy made sense as three separate movies -- considering it was the adaptation of three books -- The Hobbit isn't a substantive enough work to demand three movies, even with Jackson pulling extra material from Tolkien's indices. The fabulous visuals and impressive action sequences reminiscent of the trilogy are bogged down by an overlong and overly thorough first quarter that could have used a considerable edit job.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how The Hobbit compares to The Lord of the Rings. How are the stories similar (a hobbit joins a dangerous quest), and how are they different? Which adventure do you prefer?
For those familiar with the book, how does the movie adaptation differ? If you haven't read the book yet, does the movie make you want to delve into Tolkien's classic? Why do you think Tolkien's fantasy tale has withstood the test of time?
What does Bilbo learn about himself throughout the journey?
- In theaters: December 14, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: March 19, 2013
- Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: New Line
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Book Characters, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 166 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
- Last updated: May 25, 2020
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