As I obsessed and anticipated the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I often wondered how Peter Jackson planned to stretch a simple 19 chapter novel into 3 gigantic movies. However, seeing the movie in its uber-padded glory has enlightened me into understanding what is expected of the follow up films. Mr. Jackson after all, is the one that made us all watch and enjoy LOTR – TROTK for over 3 hours without turning to chutney.
An Unexpected Journey follows the exploits of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and 13 dwarves, the most important being Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) as they set out to reclaim Erebor, the Kingdom Thorin is originally Dwarf King. The movie has gathered huge amounts of feedback from fans, reviewers, trolls and the average movie goer. People have had ranging experiences at the cinemas: anything between “it was too fast”, “it was too slow”, “it was too long” and even the occasional “it was too crisp”.
Admittedly, the first half of the movie stretches on for a bit and appeared a little too slow but this is not necessarily a bad thing as Peter Jackson is master at drawing on his audience and building up a crescendo of action and suspense. The movie begins with a prologue where an older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm reprising his role) narrates how Erebor, the greatest dwarf kingdom, rich in gold and other precious material was overtaken by the gold loving dragon – Smaug. The sequence of this narration is the most important aspect of the film as it gives context to the motive of the dwarves – to reclaim their kingdom.
After the dwarves leave the Shire, the movie begins to take shape. The gang wind their way through various perils, trolls, necromancers, orcs and the likes as Bilbo tries to prove to the dwarf warriors and himself that he is a worthy companion to take on the journey to claim back Erebor.
The movie was padded and stretched with the most visually stunning material pulled from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King book as well as The Silmarillion which helped a lot in transiting the often difficult task of translating text to visual medium. Without the expanded story of Azog the Defiler acting as Thorin’s nemesis there to push the narrative, there would be no immediate antagonistic force in the film, just a bunch of dwarves walking to and fro with a distant threat from Smaug cradled in The Lonely Mountains. One can also say the same for The Necromancer whose expanded storyline in the film helps indemnify the fact that Gandalf, a key character would disappear from the book for entire chapters at a time.
Perhaps, the film’s most notable padding, which deviates from Tolkien’s original text, possibly for dramatic effect, was enabling Bilbo to fully realize his heroic potential. Bilbo’s character progression from burdensome grump to courageous friend feels natural and isn’t forced. He grows a little in each scene and his façade of being out of place slowly crumbles.
In the book, Bilbo is basically commanded by Gandalf to join the dwarves on their journey but in the film, he chooses to sign a contract. Also, in the book, Gandalf stalls the trolls until the sun rises but in the film, it’s Bilbo’s cunning and common sense that saves the day. It will be out of place, if I didn’t take a moment to discuss the performance of His Excellency, Mr. Andy Serkis who again gives a brilliant and tortured interpretation to the character of Gollum in the 10 minute sequence with Bilbo in the Goblin Caves.
Fans of Tolkien have not lost sight of what truly makes this franchise a success – the nostalgia of anyone who has read and connected to the magical world Tolkien created in 1937 and now. An Unexpected Journey is a movie that has been created with utmost care than many others. While it might not be as dark as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the quality is undeniable. From the meticulous beards of the dwarves, the infamous hobbit feet, to the amazing motion capture special effects that are now a staple of the Tolkien franchise under Peter Jackson’s direction.
My verdict? 3.5 Stars.