The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

There is magic with any journey that begins in The Shire, particularly if Gollum lurks.

Rating: Needs to be seen at the IMAX if possible, but at least in 3D.

The HobbitBy now, most of you know the criticism that has been leveled in advance of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Many of the same movie critics who last year gushed over lackluster films such as Terrence Malik’s Tree of Life and Lars von Trier’s Melancholia now declare that Director Jackson has stumbled by daring to revisit Middle-earth. The Golden Globes shamelessly nominates Paul Thomas Anderson’s tedious and tepid The Master in multiple categories while totally ignoring The Hobbit. Having read most of these reviews, I can only summarize them as saying, “blah, blah, blah”.

Let me state without qualification that these critics are dead wrong. This is an enormously fun, energetic movie from beginning to end, and those of you who were Lord of the Rings fans will not be disappointed.

Yes, I suppose I should issue a disclaimer by saying that I consider the three original Lord of the Rings movies to have been the best trilogy ever to appear on the screen. They were haunting, visually stunning, inspiring as they were at times heartbreaking, and I treasured every moment in the theater as I watched Frodo’s dark quest.

Furthermore, I fully remember the criticism that The Lord of the Rings:The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), the first film, received at the time of its release. It was supposed to be too long, at times dull, and claims were made that it betrayed J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel. Quite honestly, the critics today are saying roughly the same thing about The Hobbit, and I suspect that true movie fans around the world will again fully ignore them.

To begin with, while The Hobbit spends a bit of time with Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett reappearing as Old Bilbo, Frodo, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel, they only make a brief contribution. The story, and it is an entertaining one, jumps back 60 years as Bilbo Baggins tells the story of his glorious adventure as a young man.

What makes the film work is the fact that it is centered again on Gandolf, the wily wizard played by the legendary Ian McKellen. He has drafted Bilbo into a journey that includes 12 crazed dwarfs who happen to be far more handy with arrows and swords than their 7 cousins who helped Snow White in a different age. My biggest concern about seeing The Hobbit centered on these characters, and I soon became as shamelessly attached to these fellows as I was to those who joined Frodo in the earlier films.

True, the lads are a motley looking crew, but the viewer is also likely to soon develop a strong affection for them. Sure, they have a resemblance to the boys in ZZ Top if you can imagine the musicians as disheveled dwarfs, but they are shrewd, effervescent and occasionally quite funny, and you share their concern over the dangers they continually encounter.

Though none of them are recognized stars, I have to point out the performance of Richard Armitage. He does a great job playing Thorin, a deposed future dwarf king who is seeking to recover his Middle-earth homeland while gaining revenge on a nasty group of Orks who killed his grandfather and father.

Thorin is a tiny fighter who is every bit as gifted as Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn, and his distrust of Bilbo is the only thing that holds him back. The dilemma hovering over the entire film is whether Thorin’s dedication to the quest will be poisoned by his desire for revenge, and everything revolves around this anguished little man.

Additionally, it was bizarrely enchanting to see the reappearance of Gollum, again brought to life by the immensely talented Andy Serkis. Gollum remains a wretchedly slithering little cave dweller who was suffering from an uncontrollable bipolar disorder long before it was ever properly identified by medical experts.

When he encounters Bilbo in his cave for the first time, he goes ballistic when Bilbo finds the precious Ring that he accidentally misplaced. This beings his love/hate relationship with Bilbo, and you almost feel a bit bipolar yourself watching the bony little creature’s horrible agony. I think I can safely say that you will seldom have reason to embrace a villain with such profound love and hatred at the same time.

It would be foolish to try to give you an overview of the plot, so I will make no pretense and even try. The movie follows the magnificent journey of a group of dwarfs, a hobbit and a wizard as they try to reclaim the dwarfs’ lost kingdom and wrestle the treasure stolen from them by a nasty dragon. Along the way they repeatedly battle some hideous goblins as well as the God-awful leader of the Orks, the latter desiring nothing less than to decapitate Thorin as he previously did to his father and grandfather.

There are several magnificent battle scenes involving our boys, and all of them are visually resplendent. The film is helped by Mr. Jackson’s decision to shoot the film at a higher frame rate than a traditional movie, namely 48 frames per second as opposed to the usual 24. Regardless, these Orks and their leader have very bad attitudes, and they are helped by large, carnivorous furry beasts that many ride in pursuit of a tasty meal.

While this will give nothing away, children are likely to enjoy this movie because our gang survives repeated peril in Part 1 of the Hobbit trilogy.Strangely, that was a bit of a disappointment for me, as Sean Bean’s death as Boromir at the end of The Fellowship was a heartbreaking reminder that this fate hovers outside everyone’s small hut.

Finally, it is worth noting that this is a guy’s adventure on-screen, as with the exception of Cate Blanchett there aren’t any women in The Hobbit. Forget romance, as you simply won’t see it. Yet, the spectacular topography of New Zealand, again used to great effect by Mr. Jackson, has its own way of warming your heart.

But I would like to comfort those of you who need to see at least one character with a sexy edge to be reminded that Orlando Bloom appears again as Legolas in the second Hobbit film to be released in December of 2013. Say what you want about his talents with a bow, that was one good-looking elf.