Hello, Middle Earth. It’s good to see you again.
Nine years after director Peter Jackson completed the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, he opens a new chapter with a prequel trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.” The former received 17 Oscars and a total of 30 Academy Award nominations. It’s kind of a lot to live up to.
This new journey starts much like its predecessor, with a bit of history and a trip to the Shire. Instead of young Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), the hobbit protagonist of this trilogy is Bilbo (played here by both Ian Holm and an exceptional Martin Freeman). Called on an adventure by his old acquaintance, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Bilbo sets out with a group of dwarves to take back their home from a fire-breathing dragon.
One of the staples of these films has been the beautiful landscape of New Zealand. If nothing else, “The Hobbit” would make an excellent addition to the National Geographic channel. Ranging from the hillside country to mountaintops and beyond, nature plays an important part in all of the Middle Earth tales.
In order to link this series with that of the early 2000’s, several characters have been brought back to give the audience a familiar face to see. This first installment features Frodo, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and the scene-stealing Gollum (Andy Serkis). Later on, we will also see Orlando Bloom as Legolas. While it does feel like a bit of a desperate move for Frodo and Legolas to come back, most of these characters are utilized in the film to where it is less distracting and more enjoyable.
I’ve heard from many that “The Hobbit” feels borishly slow and that it takes way too long for anything to happen. Did these same people complain about “The Fellowship of the Ring?” This film follows the same time structure as that one. It’s uncanny just how similar the flow of the two films are.
There are three main differences between this prequel and its more successful predecessors:
First, the characters are not as memorable. It’s fair to say that Gimli, Aragorn and others had three long films to develop their storylines. Still, this film features a dozen or so dwarves of whom the average viewer can distinguish roughly three or four. There hasn’t been enough development yet for the audience to care about the majority of these characters, though it may come in future films.
Second, the film has a different tone. The previous adventures were full of dread and had the feeling of a post-apocalyptic world. “The Hobbit” is a much more light-hearted take on Middle Earth. Funny little dwarves sing songs while dancing with the dishes and a goblin king delivers a one-liner while expiring. The mission being carried out by Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves doesn’t carry near the same weight that Frodo’s quest does decades later. The film loses a little dramatic tension here and tries to replace it with humor. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
Lastly, and to borrow from Ian Holm in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” this film feels at times “like too little butter spread over a piece of bread.” This should not be a trilogy, especially not one where each installment is three hours long. Books are great in that they have more details than their film counterparts, but here Peter Jackson includes all of those little things. At times it’s like he can’t see the forest for the trees. The main story of the film gets bogged down by insignificant details.
Despite these three arguments, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is still a quality film. It doesn’t fully match up to the original trilogy, but there is an exciting adventure to be had.