The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins exactly where the original trilogy takes off. And I mean that quite literally. As Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood cameo) prepares for an elder Bilbo’s (Sir Ian Holm) birthday extravaganza, the seasoned hobbit delves into a state of deep reflection. As if to foreshadow the adventures Frodo is about to encounter, Bilbo proceeds to inscribe his own tales of thrills and escapades.
It is no wonder Bilbo takes such a liking to his favorite kin Frodo. Both hobbits share a curiosity of the world beyond the Shire and are willing to embark on treacherous journeys in the name of good over evil. Welcome back to Middle-Earth.
As Bilbo begins to simultaneously write his memoirs while narrating his tale, we are brought back in time, 60 years before the events of the original trilogy. The story is a simple one. Young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is immediately summoned by Gandalph the Grey (Ian McKellen) and a group of 13 charismatic Dwarves on a mission to reclaim their homeland from an evil dragon named Smaug.
One of the few highlights of the film is the ongoing banter between this pack of bungling Dwarves. Each seems to have their own quirks and personality, with their piggish appetites and clownish demeanor serving as comic relief throughout the entire film. It is unclear why the determined group recruit Baggins as their 14th companion, other than his small stature and quickness to serve as their “burglar.” But the connections between Bilbo and Frodo are increasingly evident. Just as Frodo reluctantly embarked on his own journey, Bilbo, ever the homebody, reviles the thought of leaving the comforts of the Shire. But the lone hobbit eventually relents, and off they go into a world where safety is never promised.
The correlations between the beginning of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring are so similar, it takes away any originality I would have liked to see as Peter Jackson begins his brand new trilogy. Although the movie gets off to a slow start, the momentum begins to build at a rapid pace. Consequently, the entertainment factor of this film can not be denied. Danger is constantly lurking behind every corner, threatening to derail the group’s ultimate goal to reach their land. The creatures are plentiful, and it is quite evident that cinematographer Andrew Lesnie and visual effects management Weta Digital have returned from the original trilogy. Whether it’s the Orcs, Trolls, Goblins or Wizards, we are once again reminded of the talent Peter Jackson and his team deliver in bringing J.R.R. Tolkein’s mystical world to life.
Audience-expectation for this film will no-doubt be extraordinarily high. With the original book only spanning a few hundred pages, many will be critical of stretching this saga into three installments. I wouldn’t disagree with them. Baggins’ presence in this film brings very little to the table. He is merely there to tag along and help the Dwarves fight off the occasional Orc or Goblin. The development of his character would most likely have better been served had the entire story been told in one motion picture. Nevertheless, the film contains many highlights and perhaps the most dazzling special effects I have seen since 2003’s The Return of the King.
Audiences will absolutely adore the unforgettable altercation between young Bilbo and the multiple personality-plagued Gollum (Andy Serkins, reprising his role). Other returning cast members include Hugo Weaving as the Elvin master, Christopher Lee as Wizard Saruman the White and Cate Blanchett as Elf Galadriel. We are never quite sure why Baggins excepts Gandalph’s invitation to accompany the Dwarves on this life-threatening journey (although we learn somewhat why towards the end). What we do know is Bilbo is a kind-hearted hobbit who understands the value of a home, therefore sympathizing with the Dwarf refugees.
Much like The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit ends in a temporary moment of triumph. And just like the former, The Hobbit brilliantly leaves us with a chilling certainty that the worst has yet to come. For fans of the franchise, they can expect a fitting end to this film. That is surely a must for die-hard fans, as they will now embark on a year-long wait to see what impending danger inevitably lies ahead.
In theaters December 14th, 3 out of 4 Stars. Watch the trailer here.