The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is neither great nor horrible; it is precisely what it means to be. Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel of the same name, director Peter Jackson’s latest trek into Middle-Earth results in mixed results. As the film is now the first in an intended trilogy, An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) seems to spread itself a bit too thin. Tasked with establishing the setting and tone of the series, AUJ spends a lot of time setting up the world without too much happening. Though the film offers top-notch performances from its cast, a fantastic score, and lush imagery, the story and pacing tend to get in the way of this traditional adventure romp.
Though The Hobbit does very well in establishing a unique identity, it spends a bit too much time doing so. As a result, the pace often dawdles. Additionally, the themes of the film are not as heavy as those in the LOTR films; however, Jackson is able to inject just the right amount of drama without weighting the film down. In doing this, the film supplements the original tale with information pulled from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Appendices and notes. Despite beefing up the original story with additional characters, subplots, and histories, AUJ manages to keep its main premise largely in tact.
An Unexpected Journey follows the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, as he embarks on an adventure with the wizard, Gandalf, and thirteen dwarves to reclaim their homeland (and riches) from the evil dragon, Smaug. While this synopsis sums up the trilogy’s overreaching plot, there are a number of subplots introduced. Though each is carefully managed, many story threads seem a bit unnecessary at times. Aside from Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum (and subsequent finding of the one ring), the history of the dwarves, and the mention of some familiar characters, most of the elements added don’t seem to serve a greater purpose; however, this could change as the trilogy continues forward. In addition to a slow start, the sometimes stop-go pacing of the film does not deliver a smooth final product. Instead, the end result seems a bit too choppy and over bloated.
Aside from pacing issues though, AUJ blends humor, action, and adventure with remarkable special effects. Though the 3D presentation is bland, and the special 48FPS option isn’t for everyone, The Hobbit provides enough spectacle even devoid of gimmicks. CG creatures like Gollum have never looked better. Additionally, landscapes, both new and familiar are portrayed in much greater detail thanks in part by advances in technology.
Though its arguably unnecessary run-time bogs the film down, AUJ is still a fun ride. Actors Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen deliver impressive performances that seem plucked straight from the page. Though many of the dwarf characters remain underdeveloped, it’s probably for the best. The film focuses on the major players, the rest are just along for the ride.
It is hard to compare An Unexpected Journey to previous franchise installments, as it truly is something very different. More Narnia than LOTR, the first of three prequels will leave you satisfied, but not necessarily craving more.