Set sixty years before ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’, based on the 1937 novel ‘The Hobbit’ by J.R.R. Tolkien, is about Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who is hired by the wizard Gandalf to accompany thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin, on a journey across Middle-earth to reclaim the lost kingdom of Erebor from Smaug, the dragon.
The film is the first of a three-part adaptation of the novel. Peter Jackson wonderfully encapsulates a relatively short section of the book into an elaborate 2-and-half-hour film. Visually, as seen in the standard 24 fps format, the film offers nothing spectacular/never-seen-before. It would be advisable to catch the film in 2D for a better experience. The 1 hour-20-odd-minute long build-up is bound to tire even the most ardent fans of the book/LOTR films. However, post-interval, it transforms into a completely different film and takes off magnificently. The film is a must-watch, particularly for the jaw-dropping second-half. The latter half of the film has been shot/edited/written/scored excellently and successfully manages to keep the viewer engaged till the very end.
The film begins with the ‘eleventy-one’ year-old Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) starting to chronicle his life on paper by writing about his coming-of-age as the hobbit. We catch a glimpse of Frodo (Elijah Wood) exchanging greetings with Bilbo following which he leaves to meet up with an expected visitor, wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). This scene is straight out of the story in the first film in the ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy, ‘The Lord Of The Rings – Fellowship Of The Ring’. Besides the obvious seamless connection that the writers have made between the two films, it is also surprising to see the older Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Elijah looking exactly like they did in the 2001 film. Time changes everything but have to admit that technology is a great leveller!
The older Bilbo reminisces about his younger days. We go back sixty years into the past, when Bilbo was just another unassuming hobbit. He happens to encounter Gandalf at the Shire. Bilbo, albeit reluctantly, joins Gandalf and thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the horrendous dragon Smaug. Their journey leads them into the Wild, through lands filled with Goblins and Orcs among other monstrous creatures. Their goal lies at the Lonely Mountain. However, to reach there, they must escape the goblin tunnels where Bilbo encounters Gollum (Andy Serkis). For those who have watched the first ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ film will remember that it is never really shown how Baggins gets hold of the Ring. Well, this encounter, last for over 10 minutes, is one of the best scenes of the film. The peculiar-looking Gollum tries to get the better of Bilbo, but the latter, with his dry humour intact, gives as good as he gets!
The first-half of the film fails to engage the viewer. There is too much attention paid to the minor intricacies in the story. It is understandable in such a situation when such a compact book is being made into a three-film series. However, the build-up to the mid-way mark does falter, and it won’t be a surprise if several viewers are plain bored by that point. The establishing of Bilbo’s, Gandalf’s and Thorin’s characters, is excellent.
However, the journey itself is marred by numerous mundane incidents. The face-offs with various adversaries during the initial stages of the journey are just not thrilling enough and could have been cut short/done away with.
The second-half, however, brushes aside all the apprehensions of the viewers. Be it any filmmaking aspect, the writing, characterization, dialogues, action, cinematography, art direction, dialogues, direction, make-up, editing, the works, and ‘The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey’ upstages all expectations. Peter Jackson, with his team of writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro, deliver a magnificent, albeit a wee-bit long, screenplay! The pre-climactic moments of the film are sparkling, to put it mildly. Howard Shore’s spellbinding music acts as a major factor in the ‘second-half resurrection’. Many of the tracks will remind you of those in the ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy. However, the music goes well with the film and manages to stay with you long after the final credits roll.
One more thing, even if you have not read the book, you will like the film. Even if you have no idea about the ‘LOTR’ trilogy, you should like the film. In all likelihood, you will love this film!