The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Review)

Heavy metal bands get larger all the time.

Heavy metal bands get larger all the time.

When this website kicked off 4 years ago I had already decided that The Lord of the Rings trilogy had been worked over more than Paris Hilton – although by a billion Internet nerds who wouldn’t know what to do with her ‘airness’ if they fell over her (answer: slap some sense and humility into her). Therefore I tried something different and kept a running ‘stream of consciousness’ diary for each of the three films, which you can find here (Fellowship), here (Towers) and here (Return).

So now in 2013, with well over a thousand reviews and counting, I find myself writing the first ‘proper’ review of a film from the LotR universe.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the tone of the film is much lighter, with far more jokes aimed at the younger hobbits among us. Even the threat level of the orcs is a far less daunting ‘orange’ than some of LotR’s ‘red’ moments. (Btw I did zero research into threat level colours, if they don’t make sense just know – The Hobbit is less scary for the most part.)

Opening some 60 years before Fellowship, when Gandalf was still grey and a sprightly 300 odd (probably), The Hobbit tells of stolen dwarf treasure and a fearsome dragon named Smaug.

Then we meet ‘old’ Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) as he is finishing the memoirs that helped inspire young Frodo to embark upon the quest that enriched at least ten hours of every Gen Xer nearly a decade ago.

Flashback to ‘young’ Bilbo (Martin Freeman), a fresh faced and furry footed hobbit now yet tempted by the outside world. Not that temptation was the impetus behind his adventures, the real reason was more blunt, decidedly taller, and wearing a pointy grey hat.

Bilbo says no thanks to the promise of great adventure

Shortly after Gandalf’s visit, Bilbo is again interrupted – 13 times. Each time with the arrival of a loud and unruly dwarf. Soon Bilbo’s home is as hairy, loud and obnoxious as a Kardashian Christmas, and only slightly less attractive.

Despite Bilbo having no formal training or even knowledge of his own aptitude, Gandalf returns to tell the thirteen dwarves that he will be accompanying the party as an expert thief and because his scent is unfamiliar, also known as the Lynx Effect. He then continues on to illuminate us all as to the reason that they might require such skills; they are to journey to the lair of Smaug to retrieve the stolen treasure and rebuild the reputation of the dwarf race.

The dwarves are almost uniformly happy go lucky, verging on cartoonish – and herein lies a problem I will address later – except that is, for Thorin, the always serious son of the dwarf King slain while attempting to defend his kingdom and treasure by a huge white Orc. (And what are the chances he might pop up later to say ‘Hi’ to Thorin?)

From here The Hobbit has much in common with Fellowship, in that for the most part the new travelling party are on the road and far nearer the start of their trek than nearing the conclusion. As a result you occasionally find yourself hoping that they get a wriggle on. Along the way they encounter cave trolls (in a scene more kid friendly than kid frightening) and battling stone giants with the orcs moving ever closer on the cool ferocious giant dogs from Tower.

It's a toy, but tell me they're not balls!

It’s a toy, but tell me they’re not balls!

There is a sequence in Elvish country to reintroduce both Elrond (Hugo Weaving, who thankfully tones down the over pronunciation this time round), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and *Boo* Saruman (Christopher Lee), though this is more a stopover than an event, and a little later an encounter with the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries), a giant creature with the misfortune of having a huge ballsack permanently dangling from his chin, kinda like a Middle Earth John Travolta… allegedly.

As well as the Elves and of course Gandalf, there are minor reappearances of other LotR staples Frodo, and more tellingly, bi-polar disease’s most beloved representative Gollum, who it seems is destined to carry his role through to Part 2.

I loved the familiar music, I loved returning to Middle Earth, and I loved the sweeping camera angles and dramatic pans that highlight the terrain and the beautifully realised worlds within.

And now to my foibles that prevented me from bestowing greatness upon this film.

Now I want to remove myself from any non-PC ‘little people’ bashing, but aside from Gandalf and Bilbo this is a travelling party lacking diversity, none of whom are eligible to ride the attractions at Disneyland. With 12 of the 13 similarly carefree and prone to pratfalls and occasional slapstick, the dwarves are like a group of other people’s young kids, momentarily amusing but eventually tedious (guessing which ones might live is also pointless, as they are basically interchangeable anyway).¬†For his part Thorin is suitably solemn and determined, but he seems to spend more of his time doubting Bilbo in public than discussing the mission – except for his Big Speech near the end that is.

Speaking if the end, it needs mentioning that 90% of the action is in the last 10% of the action, and just when you are pumped and primed for bigger things, the quarter hour that is the credits start rolling.

Gee I liked what I saw, but I can’t say I was as breathless with anticipation as to what will ensue when the series picks up again in 11 1/2 months time (no doubt just after the Super-Special Edition DVD is released) than I was at the end of Fellowship.

Final Rating – 7.5 / 10. An enjoyable and richly realised fantasy romp, only aimed at a slightly younger demographic. I have already been informed that this is more faithful to Tolkein’s novel, but that doesn’t make it any more adult friendly, especially for those of us whose familiarity is limited to the LotR trilogy.

P.S. it must be good to be playing a character from the LotR trilogy, you know you’ll be making it regardless. Of course you could read the books to find out as well, just like the millions of fans.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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