Warning: This review will contain some spoilers so read at your own risk. The short version, however, is that I rather enjoyed the film and suggest that you go see it especially in 3D IMAX if you have the option available to you.
This is definitely the film that we’ve been waiting almost ten years for and for the most part it delivers. This is indeed Bilbo Baggins’s unexpected adventure and he will absolutely not return to the Shire the same hobbit. To the jump!
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first. The Hobbit is visually stunning. From the setting to the costumes, this is absolutely the same world that so many of us fell in love with the trilogy. New Zealand really just is Middle Earth at this point and they’ve found some fantastic new locations this go-round. It would be impossible not to mention the fantastic score by Howard Shore which is one of the strongest aspects of the film. Shore works in familiar musical cues while creating some beautiful new ones. The Misty Mountain song has stood out since the initial trailer and continues to do so in the film. It’s beautiful work and helps take the film to a whole new level.
Continuing on a similar note, I mentioned above that I suggest seeing it in 3D IMAX and I’d like to repeat it here. I can’t speak in regards to the 48 fps experience but I feel this is definitely a film worth seeing in 3D and I normally despise 3D films. It honestly feels like it was made for the 3D experience and the 3D actually really enhances the viewing experience. I particularly noticed it during a scene where it rained and also in several scenes where it looked like a character was actually going to reach out of the screen. I can only imagine that 48 fps would make viewers feel even more immersed in some scenes. The only warning I might add is that if you’re prone to motion sickness that some of the scenes with sweeping aerial shots might not go over so well.
As for the film itself, it is sincerely enjoyable. The opening and the close provide the perfect framework for this part of the tale. Bilbo actually tells the tale of how the dwarves lost the Misty Mountain to Smaug therefore setting viewers up for the meat of the story. In a lovely little bit of cinematography and some storytelling, the audience is never actually shown the dragon, leaving everyone in anticipation for the next film. Occasionally, the story does drag at times with what feels like just a bit too many orc tracking scenes or scenes with the dwarves fighting them but it otherwise works quite well. It’s not hard to become invested in the dwarves’ quest to reclaim their kingdom even if their King is far from the warm and cuddly type. The storyline follows that of the source material for the most part with the occasional deviation and is not difficult to follow.
The best scene is probably also one of the more anticipated ones. No need to fear: Riddles in the Dark makes the perfect transition to screen. Andy Serkis is, as always, flawless as Gollum and Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is just the right balance for the scene. Another scene that stood out was one that some people might roll their eyes at but I was pleasantly surprised to find Jackson had included. Towards the start of the film, Bilbo is fretting over all of these dwarves in his house and also over the state of his dishes. The dwarves sing a song about how they should break the plates because that’s what Bilbo Baggins hates but, of course, end up not breaking a single dish as they clean up.
In terms of acting, Martin Freeman was clearly perfectly cast as Bilbo Baggins. Sir Ian McKellan slips back into the robes of Gandalf the Grey with ease and is another high note of the film. As far as the dwarves go, each of the actors did well and were able to differentiate their characters from one another with a little help from the wardrobe department despite having all of their similar names. The real dwarf standout would probably be Ken Stott as Balin who ended up being my favorite despite Thorin Oakenshield and his heroic back story. All of the cameos from actors and characters from the previous films are also likely to bring a smile to faces. (We’re all in agreement that Cate Blanchett was meant to be an elf, right?)
Obviously, there was a fair bit of material added in to bring the first half of the tale up to a 3 hour running time. For viewers unfamiliar with the book, it might seem like no more than more battles for the dwarves to deal with. For those of us who have read (and loved) the book, the added scenes are a fair bit more obvious. Personally, I struggled at times with the extra material because I thought it changed the overall feel of the story a bit too much. The Hobbit is more of a light hearted adventure story whereas the Lord of the Rings was the sprawling epic. At times (and especially with the news of three films in mind), it felt as if Jackson and the other screenwriters were trying to put The Hobbit firmly in that category as well and the dichotomy made something about the film feel just a hair off. I personally could have done with a few less scenes of the orcs tracking the company which would’ve also shaved some of the running time off the film. The change from removing material from the story to supplementing it with more does feel strange at times. However, I suspect that a second viewing of the film might put me more at ease with some of the changes. Already, I’m finding myself a bit more kosher with how the Necromancer subplot has been fleshed out.
What does worry me are the next two films. As most people probably guessed, it ends after the Eagles rescue the company and I… honestly do not know how they are going to fill two more films with what’s left of the plot. I’m going to cross my fingers that they’ll decide to reverse their decision.
Regardless of what might happen in the next film, this is still a solidly good film that is enjoyable but could have used a little heavier of a hand when it came to editing.
Overall, I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 4/5 stars and suggest you all head out to the cinema this weekend and see it.
Disclaimer: I’m writing this review at 4am so please forgive any incoherency or rambling.