The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has its moments with fine performances from Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and the always reliable Ian McKellen who slips right back into his Gandalf garbs without missing a beat. But the screenplay and plotline feels too simplistic especially when you compare the scope and ultimate effect it would have on Middle Earth.
Genre(s): Fantasy, Action, Adventure
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 182 min. – $35.99 | November 5, 2013
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Writer(s): J.R.R. Tolkien (novel); Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson & Guillermo Del Toro (screenplay)
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis
Theatrical Release Date: December 14, 2012
Features: Featurettes, UV Digital Copy
Number of Discs: 3
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 7.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Portuguese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish
Disc Size: 39.1 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
Note: This is my original review of the theatrical version. I have added an addendum with my thoughts on the “Extended” version.
THE MOVIE – 3.0/5
How does one follow up one of the most epic trilogies of all-time? Well, for Peter Jackson and company, after some financial negotiations between Warner/New Line and MGM, it’s to go back to the J.R.R. Tolkien well and take another stab at it. However, what was once supposed to be a two-part film, filmmakers decided to expand The Hobbit and squeeze one more movie. With the first of the three, An Unexpected Journey is a woefully long film with too many unnecessary scenes and characters that save for two are frankly indistinguishable.
The film begins with a rather lengthy narration by the old Bilbo Baggins (IAN HOLM) as he sets to write a new chapter in his memoir telling a story Frodo (ELIJAH WOOD making a cameo) knows about. After some flashback sequences outlaying the crux of the story, we learn the narration takes place before the opening of Fellowship of the Ring with Frodo leaving Bilbo’s home to lie underneath a tree. It then transitions from Old Bilbo to Young Bilbo (MARTIN FREEMAN) as he encounters Gandalf (IAN MCKELLEN) for the first time in a long time. The meet is odd with Gandalf recalling how Bilbo was an adventurer and wishes to enlist him to be the final member of a dangerous quest, but Bilbo flatly refuses.
Gandalf leaves but not before placing a mark on the door which leads to numerous guests who enter Bilbo’s home: Dwarves Dwalin (GRAHAM MCTAVISH), Balin (KEN STOTT), Bifur (WILLIAM KIRCHER), Bofur (JAMES NESBITT), Bombur (STEPHEN HUNTER), Fili (DEAN O’GORMAN), Kili (AIDAN TURNER), Oin (JOHN CALLEN), Gloin (PETER HAMBLETON), Nori (JED BROPHY), Dori (MARK HADLOW), Ori (ADAM BROWN), would-be King Thorin Oakenshield (RICHARD ARMITAGE) and eventually Gandalf. Outside of Thorin, Gandalf and, of course, Bilbo, are completely forgettable and mostly interchangeable.
After initial hesitation, Bilbo accepts being the 14th member of the quest as the “burglar” (stealthy member of the group) although as the leader, Thorin is none to impressed as Bilbo’s inclusion was at the behest of Gandalf. Still the group is off making the long journey to the Lonely Mountain and for the dwarves to reclaim their home. As you now notice, this is the first problem with the movie. Where in Fellowship the stakes are much higher as the quest is to take a powerful ring to Mount Doom through treacherous lands with everybody along the way, including friends, wanting the ring for themselves.
In any case, the quest continues on as they later encounter some “interesting” characters such as trolls who have stolen three of their horses; Radagast the Brown (SYLVESTER MCCOY) on a rabbit-drawn sleigh of all things and tells a tale of some kind of evil in the forest (and a spider-like creature) he then helps the group out, who are now without any horses after they ran off during the scuffle with the trolls, after orcs come a-chasing. The elves’ arrive to save the day much to the chagrin of Thorin who hasn’t exactly had the greatest respect for them after they had turned their backs on him and his father earlier.
The group (not entirely sure what to call them), travels through caves which lead out to Rivendell which again, does not please Thorin that Gandalf had led them there. They receive much nourishment (the vegetarian kind which doesn’t sit well with dwarves) and relief while Gandalf consults with Elrond (HUGO WEAVING), Galadriel (CATE BLANCHETT) and Saruman (CHRISTOPHER LEE) as they debate the quest that receives much resistance.
Fast forward, the dwarves leave Rivendell to continue the quest to the Lonely Mountain continuing to encounter obstacles as the guest-ers (?) get captured by goblins though Bilbo manages to slip away and later, after a bit of a tumble during a fight with a goblin, runs into who else but precious himself: Gollum (ANDY SERKIS) and the pair have a freestyle riddle battle. During this section, Bilbo manages to get his hands on the ring…
Meanwhile, the league (?) get their asses saved once again by Gandalf and manage to escape the goblins and its ruthless king only to later, now joined by Bilbo who won the riddle-games and escape with the ring (which displeases Gollum) only to run into who I assume will be the series’ primary villain in the form of Azog (MANU BENNETT) who had killed Thorin’s father in a battle that was recounted earlier in the movie.
Oh, and those Eagles who are sentient and thus make choices but they seem to swoop in and save the day many times at, from what I recall, the request of Gandalf. This happened twice in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and once in The Hobbit. I understand the resistance to carry the burden of the ring (or Frodo carrying the ring), but doesn’t make a heck lot of sense in this case (once you see it, you’ll know what I mean).
No doubt, The Hobbit is a visual feast and with Peter Jackson’s eye, he transports viewers back to Middle-Earth via New Zealand (and soundstages) and really helps to keep the movie from being a complete waste. Staying positive, I was impressed not only with the production designs and the locations, but the costume designs is also amazing which shouldn’t come to a surprise given that presumably most of the crew from The Lord of the Rings was back for more.
On the negative side, however, this just didn’t seem to be a necessary movie. The story itself is far too simple even to fill one film let alone three which leads to too much padding and too many forgettable characters. Unexpected Journey clocks in at around 140-minutes (sans credits) and that already was a stretch so I have to wonder what another 5.5 hours will hold.
The other problem, although perhaps it’s how the book was written and thus translated, this is far more suited for children and even though there are a couple darker scenes, there are many others which are geared more towards comedy, slapstick even, than a serious drama that Rings had.
On the whole, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn’t a terrible movie, of course. Martin Freeman, despite knowing his character’s fate, does a good job as the title character providing some humor while Richard Armitage stands out from them all in what I consider the Viggo Mortensen slot. Armitage has the soul of this entire tale since he leads the pack (?) to reclaim his people’s homeland. Anyway, there’s plenty here to like but just as much to sort of hate, the biggest one, is the story is far too simple and spread across three movies, too much pointless filler.
This version is about 16-minutes longer and other than one scene in which a young Bilbo Baggins, about 6-years-old, runs into Gandalf and he’s enamored with the grey wizard’s fireworks. It’s a nice little scene and establishes the connection and why Gandalf is disappointed in Bilbo’s lack of adventure. But outside of that scene, there are little bits and pieces added or extended and while nice, aren’t anything special.
If you want to see what was added, the Scene Selection has asterisks to denote new and extended scenes.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 5.0/5
This release comes with a thick, window-like opening, slip cover. The 3-disc set is contained in a black Blu-ray case and the discs match the artwork from the Lord of the Rings Extended Editions.
Filmmakers’ Commentary –Writer/Producer/Director Peter Jackson and Writer/Co-Producer Philippa Boyens provide an in-depth, informative and charismatic commentary outlying returning to the franchise and some of the difficulties in filming.
New Zealand: Home of Middle-Earth (6:35; HD) is a short featurette following Peter Jackson and crew as they scour the region for locations.
Introduction by Peter Jackson (1:54; HD) – Jackson gives a short intro into these new appendices’.
The Appendices: Part 7
A Long Expected Journey: The Chronicles of The Hobbit – Part 1 (4:31:11; HD) is an extensive, to say the least, behind-the-scenes documentary consisting of 14-parts (sans credits): “The Journey Back to Middle Earth”, “Riddles in the Dark”, “An Unexpected Party”, “Roast Mutton”, “Bastion of the Greenwood”, “A Short Rest”, “Over Hill…”, “…Under Hill”, “Out of the Frying Pan…”, “Return to Hobbiton”, “The Epic Scene 88”, “The Battle of Moria”, “Edge of the Wilderland”, “Home is Behind, the World Adead”.
The Appendices: Part 8
Return to Middle Earth (4:45:21; HD) is a 6-part documentary that goes into the characters and backgrounds in further detail: “The Company of Thorin”, “Mr. Baggins: The 14th Member”, “Durin’s Folk: Creating the Dwarves”, “The Peoples and Denizens of Middle-Earth”, “Realms of the Third Age: From Bag End to Goblin Town” and “The Songs of The Hobbit”.
Both of these documentaries are amazing and well worth watching as you get insights into nearly every aspect of making this entry from costumes, stunts and even a little bit on the start and stop of production when Guillermo del Toro was on board. Just about every minute of this is fascinating; of course, it’s tough to get through in one sitting, but well worth it even if you have to spread it across 2-3 days.
VIDEO – 5.0/5
Warner Brothers releases The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey presented with a 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer (MPEG-4 AVC codec). The picture here looks amazing with sharp detail levels and a balanced color array. If there’s any filmmaker whose work benefits from HD, it’s Peter Jackson as his lush visuals absolutely pop off the screen.
AUDIO – 4.75/5
The disc includes a robust yet evenhanded 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. As with the video, this lossless audio is incredible with the surrounds being used for the numerous action sequences while the center channel for dialogue and/or any elements occurring on-screen. Also benefiting from the HD audio is Howard Shore’s score which uses some cues from the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
OVERALL – 4.25/5
Overall, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has its moments with fine performances from Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and the always reliable Ian McKellen who slips right back into his Gandalf garbs without missing a beat. But the screenplay and plotline feels too simplistic especially when you compare the scope and ultimate effect it would have on Middle Earth. The Blu-ray at least has excellent audio/video transfers and the two documentaries are incredible; even if you’re not a fan of the movie, this is well picking up just for the supplemental material.