Nine years after Peter Jackson put a wrap on The Lord of the Rings trilogy (LOTR), the acclaimed director returns to Middle-earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I should start by making everyone aware of what a geek I am for this world of wizards, elves, and dwarves: I named the LOTR trilogy as the greatest film of the past decade (2000-2009) – and yes, I consider the three as one, we can debate that another time if you wish. So you can basically knock a half-star or so off this review if you are just a mild fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy as seen through the vision of Peter Jackson and company.
Set 60 years before the LOTR, The Hobbit tells the ambitious tale of Bilbo Baggins, a simple hobbit who aids 13 dwarves – including dwarve prince Thorin Oakenshield – on a quest to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor – and the endless amount of gold and fine treasures it contains – from the fearsome dragon Smaug. For those unaware, the source material in Tolkien’s The Hobbit is much simpler and lighter than the doomsday vibe of the LOTR (you absolutely must keep this in mind when comparing the two trilogies). The film looks beautiful – as one who remembers the majestic scope from the previous films might recall – with dazzling special effects and astonishing landscapes, while colorful characters who come in abundance make the film lively and extravagant. The pinnacle achievement of the film, of course, is the game of riddles played between our hero, Bilbo (who Martin Freeman plays to perfection), and the twisted, tortured Gollum creature – once again voiced and performed by Andy Serkis through the use of CGI. However, I have to admit that the pace of the film is a bit tedious and overdrawn, even for such a dedicated enthusiast of Jackson and the work he did on LOTR as I am. And while I feel that a good 30 minutes or so could have been trimmed from the film, it still feels necessary in most spots to lay the backstory behind key characters, and set the table for the epic adventure that will unfold over the next two years. It should come as no surprise that I back this film (as I believe most who adore the LOTR films will) and embrace it as a charming introduction to a tale that will entertain youths for decades to come. I think it sums up how I feel about the film to say that I’m already looking forward to the next one. (***)