Review of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
by James Maguire
by James Maguire
"We come to it at last. After years of legal wrangles, directorial changes, concerns over a ground- breaking new format and even the intervention of government of New Zealand, the wait is over. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has been released to worldwide audiences, and I, like countless others, was eager to return to our beloved Middle-earth and see the well-known tale of a reluctant Hobbit, enthusiastic Dwarves and a greedy and cunning Dragon brought to life.
Like many other Tolkien fanatics, I always hoped that The Hobbit would one day be filmed, certainly after the enormous success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As the project progressed, many questions arose. What was first suggested as a two film series (the second being the much-discussed “bridge” between the events of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring) became three, a trilogy that would cover just the events of the book, with material being sourced from the appendices of the LOTR books (which New Line Cinema still have the rights to use) to expand on what is a much shorter book than the aforementioned trilogy. Fans still had questions though: how much material was being used? What of the presence of Galadriel, Saruman and Radagast, who did not appear in the book? How loyal will Jackson, Walsh, Boyens et al stay to the source material, considering the changes that were made to LOTR? “The right people are in charge,” I said to myself. “They know how loved the book is, and will surely give it as much care and attention as they did to the first trilogy.” After waiting nearly a decade, I couldn’t wait to find out.
The film opens in much the same way as The Fellowship of the Ring, with a flashback to set the scene. We are introduced to the Dwarf kingdom of Erebor, built within the Lonely Mountain, and the town of Dale which sits within the mountain’s arms. The kingdom and the town are assailed and destroyed by the Dragon Smaug, and what few Dwarves are not eaten, including Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) are forced to flee into the wilderness. We only get tantalising glimpses of the old wyrm in this sequence - a tail here, a clawed foot there, but more than enough to whet the appetite for the films to come. For me, one of the challenges of this trilogy is to get Smaug right; he is so central to this story that he must become the definitive cinema dragon, the dragon by which all others are judged. On the evidence we saw, he will be.
We cut from there to the familiar sight of Bag End, and a certain Mr Bilbo Baggins Esq., who is writing the title of his famous book, as Elijah Wood’s Frodo looks on. I thought it was a nice touch that Frodo was involved. We see him carefree here, the Frodo that we only saw for a short time in the Fellowship before a certain golden ring found its way into his hands. This short scene leads into the familiar view of a younger Bilbo sat outside smoking his pipe, when our favourite Wizard walks by, threatening to involve him in an adventure. Said adventure comes right into his very Hobbit hole the next day, much to the amusement of Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, in the form of thirteen Dwarves, ranging from the threatening Dwalin, to the eager to please Dori, to the painfully polite Ori and their leader, the proud Thorin, grandson and heir of the King Under the Mountain. This is a brilliant scene, where we even get treated to Dwarvish singing, and in which Martin Freeman excels. Despite this, I would have liked it to be longer, to get a fuller introduction to each dwarf, as we get in the book. Jackson himself said that they only wanted Freeman to play Bilbo, and they got the casting spot-on. Bilbo reluctantly agrees to join the Company and the adventure begins. It is a visual treat. We are shown stunning vistas, glorious shots of the Misty Moutains and the now-familiar Rivendell, as well as the cavernous and ramshackle Goblin-town. The Shire as ever looks beautiful.
Much has been said about the various changes made to this film from the book, and how they affect the film negatively, and I must say I have to disagree. The addition of Galadriel and Saruman as well as Elrond in Rivendell - a meeting of the White Council - reinforces the idea that there is more going on in Middle-earth at that time than just the quest of Erebor. The Watchful Peace has ended, evil is stirring again, and signs which the Wise dreaded the most have been seen. Radagast, one of my favourite characters in the film, encounters the Necromancer in the ruins of Dol Guldur. Fans will know more about this character than I will reveal here, but I am fascinated to know how much more we will see of this shadowy sorcerer in the films to come.
Possibly the most controversial change from the books (and the lore) is the presence of Azog, providing another villain pursuing the Company in much the same way that Saruman’s Uruk-hai pursued the Fellowship. While some fans will disagree with Jackson’s resurrection of the so-called Pale Orc, I thought it was pretty clever, and gave Thorin a personal adversary to contend with, adding an extra sub-plot to the film; Azog is looking to finish the job he started in the Battle of Azanulbizar many years earlier and kill off the line of Durin, while Thorin looks for revenge for his fallen grandfather once he learns that Azog yet lives. The goblins’ tracking of the dwarves vastly increases the danger of the journey, which works well in the film and adds a sense of urgency. In the book, they seem to encounter no trouble until they encounter the trolls around their camp fire, one of the film’s most entertaining scenes.
The stand-out scene in this film is the famous game of riddles between Bilbo and the iconic Gollum, brilliantly played once again by Andy Serkis. The whole scene was gripping from start to finish, a real pleasure to watch, and both actors shone. It is in Gollum’s cave, of course, that a certain artifact of ages past is found. The Ring is pocketed almost nonchalantly by Bilbo, and his accidental discovery of its ability aids his escape from the Goblin tunnels, and will aid, as we all know, his efforts in the two remaining films. Overall, I thought The Hobbit was spectacular. It did not disappoint, despite all the talk of content changes and the new format, which I thought made Middle-earth look better than ever. I couldn’t take my eyes off it for a second, and I can’t wait to see it again."