This is the first of three films Peter Jackson has made to adapt J.R.R.
Tolkien's prequel to Lord of the Rings. An elderly Bilbo Baggins writes
to Frodo about the land of Erebor, where the Dwarf King Thror lost his
land and prosperity to the dragon Smaug. Bilbo then recalls the earlier
years of his life (played by Martin Freeman), where he's timid and lost
his sense of adventure. Bilbo's complacency is questioned by the wizard
Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who secretly arranges for a meeting to be held
in the hobbit's house. One evening Bilbo is interrupted by thirteen
dwarves who invite themselves inside. He's told these dwarves are in
search of a home but need a burglar who can accompany them to the
mountain where Smaug is and take back their land and treasure. Initially
reluctant, Bilbo trails after the unit but this does little to impress
Thorin (Richard Armitage), the dwarf leader and grandson of Thror, who
doubts the hobbit's commitment.
Even without reading the novel The Hobbit, nothing erases the feeling
while watching An Unexpected Journey that this is a deliberately
inflated work of fanfare, with eyes drawn acutely towards the box
office. Good cinema is defined by economics and how efficiently a story
can be told with images. Peter Jackson demonstrated this skill with his
Rings trilogy, gracefully balancing multiple narrative threads
and characters, and ensuring each one possessed an appropriate amount of
Why then has he chosen to make a soulless, linear action movie,
extravagantly scaled, but so insubstantial that it never justifies
itself as the start of a trilogy? Penned by no less than four writers,
including Jackson, this would have been more satisfying as one film with
richer themes and selective action. Instead, a novel of barely 300 pages
long is extended to nearly three hours, if only to showcase boring
battle scenes and superfluous new technology, falsely touted as
The excess of Jackson's passion stems from his fascination with geek
culture. Since the inception of his career in the 1980s, making low
budget horror films, he has been concerned with subjects like the undead
and the uncanny. His recent films have been criticised for being overly
dependent on special effects. The trajectory of his career, from horror
to global blockbusters, is not unlike James Cameron, who is
coincidentally using Jackson's special effects studio Weta Digital to
work on Avatar 2.
Both men have become transfixed by spectacle, with each of their films
more elaborate and technically sophisticated than the last. They seem
intent on blurring the lines between video games and cinema, which means
more investment into technology and effects, rather than the scripts.
Someone distanced from the source material and video game culture might
have made The Hobbit less self-indulgent and plodding. A legal
battle between Jackson and New Line Cinema meant Guillermo Del Toro was
originally meant to direct the film but was eventually replaced.
As it stands, Jackson's love for video games is all too visible here.
The script is short on themes, characterisation and subplots. It's
overly rigid structure means the film becomes too absorbed in its sets
and its environments, instead of the story. Each scene is like a level
from a game, designed to showcase a gallery of monsters, which are cogs
in the film's tired formula for suspense. Exposition is followed by
danger and then an escape route. Press start to begin.
If the desire for a home offers some resemblance of a motive, it's
regularly lost in the flurry of the action, most of which is extremely
unengaging and lacking in tension. The film's one good scene admittedly
adds some suspense and intrigue. It involves the reappearance of the
monster Gollum and begins tying threads back to the Rings trilogy. The
detail in Gollum's expressions, beautifully captured again by Andy
Serkis, is even more incredible than before.
Will fans enjoy the movie? Undoubtedly, but for most hardcore fans, more
is always more.