After rumors, delays, anticipation and a shit-load of internet talk, The Hobbit finally opened this weekend. At long last, I was about to return to Middle Earth and experience the first chapter Tolkien’s story.
Overall, I found An Unexpected Journey to be a very enjoyable experience. It was so easy to slip back into this story as if we had never left (and you know, rewound 60 years). I love exploring and spending time in that world. Jackson does a great job of making it exactly the same, yet kind of different. He really seems to be putting effort into sticking with the original tone of The Hobbit, which is far more light and innocent than The Lord of the Rings, while still connecting the two stories. It’s the same Middle Earth, but it is younger and more innocent. The darker threats that are hovering in Fellowship are not yet on the horizon, so it allows the story to take on a more innocent voice, while still being a grand adventure.
Though, the effort to connect the two stories does come with the addition of material. Jackson took some elements from the various appendices of the books, and added some of his own creation to thicken up the story. And while I totally understand why he did, the end result does make the film feel a bit bloated – particularly the middle section. The film reads less as a three-act structure and more like a series of chapters. There are a lot of peaks and valleys in this plot, rather than a constant build.
But to be clear – not so much that it ruins it. An Unexpected Journey is still a really fun adventure and well worth your time. But it doesn’t feel as tight as The Lord of the Rings films. Those were certainly long (and to be clear, I am never one to bitch about a long runtime as long as the story as being told), but it felt like everything was well-connected and you could see what it was building toward. There are scenes in An Unexpected Journey that just don’t seem to fit anywhere and only seem to be included as a means of filling space, in an attempt to make The Hobbit films as vast and epic as The Lord of the Rings movies.
But that’s not really necessary. I like and appreciate the steps that Jackson has taken to branch the two together, but The Hobbit was always a much more simple tale than The Lord of the Rings. It was always a lighter story; less complex. And that is reflected in the film, to a certain degree. The material is much more whimsical and there are more jokes and much more juvenile humor throughout. While the content is certainly lighter, the scope seems to still be driving toward epic, and the two can occasionally be at odds with each other.
That being said, I return to my earlier point. This flick is still a blast, and it is well worth seeing. Martin Freeman stepped into the role of Bilbo perfectly. Ian Holm is still on hand in the beginning, and Freeman takes the reigns up effortlessly. It’s like he has always been a member of this cast and this world, and we just didn’t notice him before. McKellen, Weaving, and Blanchette step into the roles as if filming on the first trilogy had never stopped. It’s wonderful to be able to catch up with these characters again – particularly Gandalf, who often has a sense of mischief about him. Flight of the Conchords’ Bret McKenzie gets to reprise his elf role, but this time he gets lines and a name (hooray!). And Andy Serkis. Oh, Andy Serkis. If this guy doesn’t start getting awards soon for his brilliant work, I am taking a trip to Hollywood to have a little discussion with all the members of the Academy. It will be like the ending of Jay and Silent Bob strike back. But anyway, Serkis was once again brilliant in the role of Gollum. While the tech was originally brilliant and the character looked amazing, I couldn’t believe how far it had come since Return of the King. Gollum has never looked so tangible and alive. And Serkis once again imbibed him with a combination of menace and sadness. The riddling scene is without a doubt the highlight of this film. I could watch it all day.
I saw the film in 3D, 24fps IMAX (the real IMAX), so I don’t yet have an opinion on the high frame rate discussion. I am hoping to check it out over the holiday though.
In the meantime, add The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to your upcoming viewing schedule. I don’t know about you, but my holidays have been a little empty since Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings films ended. It’s nice to have a fantasy film to escape to at this time of year.