It features the return of the dwarf King Thorin son of Thrain, and his efforts to begin the quest to regain his stolen treasures and lost Kingdom of Erebor from the fierce dragon Smaug. It opens in the Shire, a place well known to many for more than seven decades, where the hobbits live in their holes (windows and doors are circular) and love the fruits of their labour in their vegetable and flower gardens and the joys of a good high tea. They are peaceful and self-contained creatures, not inclined to adventures. But Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm as the old hobbit) has had one, and must now recount it. In the original novel this is splendid, but it doesn't lend itself to the dramatic exaggerations demanded by cinema goers today, nor the need for greater sales and larger profits that accompanies the promotion of 3D films worldwide.
The serene and contented life on the Shire is quickly abandoned by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman as the young hobbit). He joins Gandalf the Wizard (acted again by Ian McKellen) and the twelve dwarfs, led by the exiled King Thorin son of Thrain (acted by Richard Armitage). The dwarves and their leader have little confidence in or respect for the hobbit, expecting him to flee. Instead Bilbo Baggins keeps showing, to his own surprise, what he is made of. They need him because their enemies cannot smell him.
Bilbo Baggins's most difficult bit is really in the beginning when Gandalf arranges for a council by leaving a mark on his door and the thirteen dwarfs show up at his "hole". Once there, they totally consume everything he has in his pantry, larder and cellar. What else is there left for him to do, but head out on his unexpected adventure?
Bilbo Baggins displays his mettle when taking on three giant trolls who have removed their ponies, and enjoy roasting dwarves on a spit. But it is Gandalf on returning who can rescue everyone and turn the trolls into stone.
The incomparable Gollum (played again with brilliance by Andy Serkis) comes next. In the contest between good and evil, the dichotomy as drawn in the film, the Gollum (he is a hobbit Smeagol) is perhaps the only one that elicits both our sympathy and our horror as he calls himself, "My Precious". Our emotions are clearly divided when we face trolls, goblins, orcs and wolves and other hairy creatures versus the good ennobled in elves, dwarfs, majestic eagles and other friendly beings. Viewers who know already will welcome elf King Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett).
The battle of the riddles is well done, but you really should read the book before seeing the film, or at least familiarize yourself with the riddles (not all are used in the film) so that you can both hear them spoken and the answers given and understand fully what is happening. English subtitles are used for the ancient languages; why not here for Gollum and Bilbo Baggins? This is the best scene in all of The Hobbit-Part One, but many viewers simply cannot follow it. Poor Gollum is a bi-polar, split personality, a conflicted creature living alone inside a mountain in a deep pool, guarding a ring of invisibility.
Peter Jackson's commitment to "cinematic maximalism", as demonstrated convincingly in his epic version of the trilogy Lord of The Rings (LotR-that finished nine years ago, though the books were first published between 1954 and 1956) is back. Perhaps cinematic maximalism fitted the trilogy, but with the original The Hobbit (first published in 1937 or 76 years ago) it is a totally different task to turn 386 pages into another trilogy (divided the book into three novella, projected as massive volumes). On the Exclusive books list of 101 best books, LotR comes first and The Hobbit 14th. The three LotR films grossed 28-billion pula worldwide and The Return of the King took eleven Oscars. How could they resist taking on The Hobbit, a novel that has sold over one hundred million copies and been translated into four-dozen languages.
The consequence is that J. R. R. Tolkien's dramatic minimalism is on the screen overwhelmed by Peter Jackson's cinematic maximalism. Where Tolkien could refer to battles and deaths in one sentence, for example "They dropped their torches and gave one yell before they were killed" (page 79 on the demise of goblins), Jackson drags it out into unending violence. Tolkien could summarize in a few words what Jackson displays on the screen in a continuous flow of 100 decibel fighting (like the fight between the Stone Giants-a totally capricious and endless event too-destroying eardrums while the values Tolkien stood for are negated. The goblins are led by Great Goblin (do you recognise Barry Humphries or Dame Edna Everidge playing Great Goblin).
The final battle in The Hobbit-Part One is extended and enlarged in the movie by changing the attack (in the novel Wargs can't climb trees) by only Wargs or wolves. This is a battle forcing the dwarfs, Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf in to the tops of giant evergreens on the edge of a cliff. It is a major event involving the dreaded Orcs and their leader, Azog the Destroyer, long thought dead by King Thorin, son of Thrain (Azog had killed his grandfather in the mines of Moria).
A stretched tale has easily become over-weighted, fallen flat, lost its humour and its various spices. Perhaps in the next two parts of The Hobbit Jackson can put life back into them? Tolkien in the novel, The Hobbit, is really more interested in people, who they are, what they are like, their thoughts, desires and behaviour, how they feel and the consequences of their actions. Unless the movie can regain more of this dimension, it is lost, except for the howling crowds who like gratuitous violence. Needed here is more serendipity and less dark and brooding events.
The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey is two hours and 49 minutes long. It is rated 13+. The director is Peter Jackson who has been here before and done that with the trilogy LotR. The script is by Peter Jackson along with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro who also wrote LotR. It based on The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. The cinematographer is Andrew Lesnie. The editor is Jabez Olssen. The music is by Howard Shore. firstname.lastname@example.org