The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a humble hobbit from The Shire, so accustomed to living a life within the boundaries of safety and comfort, is invited by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to join him and thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on a once in a lifetime journey toward the Lonely Mountain and reclaim it. It is a place where Smaug resides, a fearsome dragon that destroyed Erebor and displaced dwarves all over Middle Earth. Initially reluctant due to the dangers ahead, Bilbo decides to participate eventually after realizing that trading in a sheltered existence is worth an unforgettable adventure.
It is easy to critique “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” directed by Peter Jackson, if compared to “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy with its relatively smaller scope in terms of story as well as a less complex acrobatics with regards to the number of characters it is required to weave in and out of the screenplay. However, it is more difficult to evaluate the film for what it is especially since the trilogy that came before it has casted such a massive shadow. Not only did “The Lord of the Rings” set the bar for future adaptions that take place within its own universe, it also sets the standard for future non-related serial fantasies.
Based on the novel “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien, the film is a scrumptious visual feast. It begins with The Shire’s verdant green slopes where everything glistens among pastoral quiet beauty that it is no wonder Bilbo does not ever want to leave his home. But when chaos is introduced, the arrival of the merry gang of dwarves, grime and filth start to slowly become more noticeable which eventually go unnoticed, at least for the time being, when violence in the form of Orcs and Wargs threaten to maim and kill them all.
Its slow but purposeful build-up of events is one of its greatest weapons. For those who cite it as a weakness, I ask: What is the value of a long and arduous journey without side quests and a willingness dive into details? When it chooses to go on tangents, it is not as if what is touched upon is uninteresting or irrelevant to the adventure. On the contrary, they provide details about the characters through action and at times introspection: if they are quite slow or quick to think on their feet, how their motivations have or have not changed over time, one’s definition of strength, what it means to fight for a cause that many may think unworthy but is very personal, among others.
The themes and questions it tackles are applicable, if one so chooses, to our every day lives. We have all been (or are) in situations where we are doubted and because of these naysayers we are changed for the better or worse. These fantastic characters and events are symbols of human characteristics and circumstances. The film does a great job making sure that we are entertained on the surface level and yet having several layers underneath to make the experience worthwhile on a personal level.
But its beauty is not limited to sweeping environs, thrilling action sequences (the chases in the goblins’ domain are magnificent), and humanity within its story. Even if something looks ugly, the picture pulls us in. Let’s take the scene involving the hungry mountain trolls. Their deformed faces and cushiony bodies will make anybody run toward the opposite direction. But they are so interesting to watch because their teratoid appearances have differences but they are not so ostentatious to cause distraction from what is occurring. As it should be, it utilizes images generated by computers to enhance a world instead of saturating it.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” based on the screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, and Guillermo del Toro, will be tedious for those who expect a linear journey. But for those who are open to be dazzled, those who choose to treat the prior trilogy as a reference rather than a shadow to be outshone, and those who just want to experience magic that can be made only in the movies, place your gold on this one.