Peter Jackson’s first prequel to his sweeping epic Lord of the Rings film trilogy premiered last week. Thanks to some forethought, my friends and I were able to attend a midnight release here in Colorado.
The Hobbit has been one of my favorite books since before I could read. When I was a child, my father would read the book to my siblings and me, and we would pretend that we too had been swept away into grand adventures in Middle Earth. Naturally, like many other fans, I was curious as to how Jackson would be able to adapt one shorter book into a film trilogy. I was not disappointed. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is but the first film that will present the beginning of the story we saw concluded in The Return of the King in 2003.
Now this adaptation covers the first portion of The Hobbit, but it expands upon it, including bits from Tolkien’s extensive body of work. Characters and events from The Silmarillion and the other tales from Middle Earth are brought into play for the film, adding a considerable depth that is expected of Jackson’s adaptations (for example, the love story between Aragorn and Arwen in the LOTR film trilogy is told in an appendix at the end of The Return of the King in the books).
The Hobbit opens with the incredible Sir Ian Holm reprising his role as Bilbo Baggins as he is preparing for his 111th birthday, as shown in The Fellowship of the Ring. He begins to reminisce about how things came to be, and we are soon transported sixty years back in time. Martin Freeman (best known as John Watson from the BBC’s Sherlock) portrays a younger Bilbo, and magnificently captures all of the mannerisms first portrayed by Holm back in 2001. Bilbo is quite content to stay at home until a chance encounter with Gandalf (again played by Sir Ian McKellen) brings a host of dwarves to his door.
The dwarves (Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori, Balin, and Dwalin) promptly and hilariously make themselves at home at Bilbo’s, much to the hobbit’s bewilderment, but answers quickly appear with Gandalf’s return and the arrival of the dwarves’ leader, Thorin Oakenshield. It seems that years ago, Thorin’s ancestors were driven from their home in Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, by the arrival of a terrible dragon known as Smaug. Now they seek to return to Erebor, kill the dragon, and claim his treasure hoard, all with Bilbo’s help (as the scent of hobbit would be unknown to Smaug, unlike the smell of dwarf, elf, or man).
The next morning, Bilbo finds that the dwarves have gone on their way, and he quickly rushes off to join them, realizing that is his chance to experience a true adventure. He is soon swept up in a journey that takes him from the Shire to Rivendell to Goblintown and beyond. Bilbo slowly transforms from quiet homebody to burgeoning adventurer.
As is expected of a Peter Jackson film, the visuals are simply breathtaking. Going back to Middle Earth feels like going home. The score is just as entrancing, aided by lyrics from Tolkien himself. Despite the expansion from the texts, the film never felt too long. The casting was perfect, with the dwarves being highly individual (my initial fear, as there are thirteen of them). The plot is well balanced, establishing moments that we know will be coming, such as the inevitable confrontation with Smaug. The shining moment of the entire film, however, is the riddle contest, in which Bilbo first encounters Gollum and finds the ring which sets so much in motion. Gollum is again played (motion capture and voice) by Andy Serkis, and he’s more real than ever before.
And so, to make a long story short (too late), The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a great beginning to another powerhouse trilogy. I can’t wait for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013, but until then, I’ll be sure to see part one at least two more times. Don’t just take my word for it. See it for yourself.