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Peter Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey‘ was a long awaited movie for ‘Lord of the Rings’ fans and new fans alike. The first movie in the expected ‘Hobbit’ Trilogy, based on the book of the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien, may present vivid action, but the audience can get lost in the dragged-out scenes.
‘The Hobbit’ begins with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who is a hobbit from the Shire, meeting with Gandalf (Ian McKellen), a wizard from his childhood. Gandalf tricks Bilbo into helping him with a mysterious quest; when thirteen dwarves show up at the door, Bilbo has no option but to help. Thorin (Richard Armitage), descendant of the great Dwarven King, is on a quest to defeat the Dragon Smaug and take back the gold that is rightfully his. Gandalf has discovered a secret entrance into the hall of his ancestors, which has been sealed since Smaug attacked, but needs help reaching his destination. On the journey he encounters various enemies, while Bilbo struggles with his conflict between wanting an adventure and wanting to return home. The enemies aren’t even the dragon, they are the orcs Thorin once battled with for his homeland, led by the one-handed pale orc Azog. This starts a series of heart-pounding moments as the characters struggle to reach their goal.
‘The Hobbit’ truly lives up to its name of being a prequel. Beginning with the returning faces of Ian Holm as young Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are instantly drawn into the new plot. Hints are dropped throughout the movie to foreshadow ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ from Gandalf’s hatred of the wizard Saruman, to Gollum’s hatred of the Baggins family. It also adds background information that the previous movies lacked, like the history of the dwarven hall of Moria or the feud between the elves and the dwarves. There is so much background information, in fact, viewers can be sure they will have a nearly complete understanding of many unexplained things in ‘The Lord of the Rings.’
The actors portray their roles wonderfully- the dwarves embody the gruff, untrusting characters fantasy fans are accustomed to, and has Freeman the comfortable, sheltered life of a hobbit. Shining in particular was Sylvester McCoy, who played Radagast the Brown, another wizard. However small his role, the scenes are delightful to watch because of the crazy character he artfully represents.
The scene of a game of riddles between Gollum and Bilbo is is one of the most fantastic foreshadowing scenes in the movie. It is the first moment Bilbo acquires the ring, the plot of the later trilogy. It also shows insight into both of their characters, emphasizing Bilbo’s wit and Gollum’s dual nature. The creature shows signs of his Smeagol/Gollum split that fans instantly recognize and know not to trust. Jackson may have dragged out the scene a bit too long- when fans already know Bilbo lives, why do the riddles keep going?
A notorious inconsistency in the movie is the way the characters never die. Or for that matter, never get hurt. They make bold, brave decisions and manage to slay a hundred orcs at a time. It would kill anyone else, but this company doesn’t even suffer injuries. For characters that begin not as warriors, but as loyal artisans gathered under Thorin, this is an amazing and unbelievable feat. The same goes for Bilbo, who protests wholeheartedly at beginning of the movie about going on the journey, and then becomes one of the most daring characters in the group. For the amount of time Bilbo rejected the idea, he changes his mind and fighting abilities quickly.
That being said, there is a lot of walking, talking and not much else happening. Azog and another unexplained character, the Necromancer, are not in the book but do add more interest to the story of what could potentially be ‘The Lord of the Rings’ with different characters. The movie itself was enjoyable, so long as the audience doesn’t get tired of watching the company almost die, to be saved at the last moment by someone finding the courage to act.
3.5/5 stars – for a movie that helped explain ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ but tried to pack too much into a plot without much ever happening.