My mom owns The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, and I once tried reading the tale of Bilbo Baggins when I was 11 or 12. I abandoned the book about two pages in. My mom later confessed that the only reason she owned the books was because a guy she had a crush on in high school was into them. She was hoping to get in good with him through a shared interest, but also found the books horribly boring and never got around to reading them. That guy is not my father, so everything worked out for the best. If nothing else, my mother and J.R.R. Tolkien taught me an important lesson: don’t feign interest in something just to get someone’s attention. It’s much better to cultivate your own interests and find friends who also like those things or can at least appreciate that you love things that they may not care that much about.
So, yeah… I don’t like The Lord of the Rings, and I’m perfectly OK admitting that. There are plenty of things that I do love that other people don’t like, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Now let me shit all over these movies that you probably love. (Why else would you be reading this particular review?)
Having actually held a copy of The Hobbit in my hands, it was utterly perplexing to me that this single novel was going to be split into three parts. It still makes no sense. I remember people crying foul when it was announced that the final Harry Potter film was going to be split into two parts, but I would argue that movies four and five should have been two-parters as well. Those are some big books, full of complex plots and seemingly unimportant details that become crucial in later installments. The Hobbit is like 300 pages, tops. That’s a movie. A move, singular. Not three.
The result of making this book into three movies is that it is very, very drawn out and often tedious. Which in a way perfectly translates some of Tolkien’s writing style to the screen, but I don’t really know who would want to watch three pages of a detailed lunch menu translated into film. What the LOTR movies did well was throw out Tolkien’s penchant for Dickensian description and replace it with action. An Unexpected Journey gives us an hour long dinner scene with a bunch of dwarves, that ends with the audience hardly knowing who these characters are and barely caring what happens to them. And there’s still 109 minutes and two movies to go from there!
An Unexpected Journey isn’t completely boring, though. There are some genuinely exciting scenes, one being Bilbo meeting Gollum and finding the ring. Martin Freeman (Bilbo) and Andy Serkis (Gollum) are both amazing actors. This scene, which is mostly a mental fight using riddles (yay, more riddles!), is amazing to watch. The CGI and motion capture used to create Gollum has come a long way since the LOTR films, complimenting Serkis’ fine work even more. There’s also an entertaining sequence where Bilbo saves everyone from a bunch of trolls. This is the sort of kiddy fun I was told to expect from a Hobbit movie, and those bits don’t disappoint.
I just don’t think there are enough of these moments to fill another four hours.
Let me start by saying that I love the Lord of the Rings films. In terms of storytelling and production quality, the Rings films are some of the highest quality I can remember. Obviously when the Lord of the Rings was the massive hit it was, film makers wanted to increase their profit margins by making more of these Middle Earth films. They decided to adapt J.R.R. Tolkien’s first book The Hobbit. Unfortunately they decided to take a book that would have been barely enough material for one film and turn it into three. The Hobbit was originally going to be two films, and I thought even that was silly. But when they announced it was going to be three, it felt like an obvious cash grab that threatened to ruin all the goodwill achieved by the brilliant Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The first Hobbit film has a group of dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), who are hoping to bust back into their old home after it was overtaken by a giant dragon named Smaug (featuring a mo-cap performance from Benedict Cumberbatch). The dwarves need to find someone to sneak into the dragon’s den and remove the crystal that a dwarf king should hold so that Thorin can reclaim his place as King Dwarf. They recruit reluctant hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to help them on their journey. Hobbits are naturally light-footed so stealing a rare crystal from a dragon’s den should be right in their wheelhouse. Bilbo is nominated by wise wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) to join their party and he reluctantly agrees. The hobbit joins the dwarf party and they set out for the Lonely Mountain to get their home back, albeit after an excruciating dinner party that feels so boring and cumbersome.
An Unexpected Journey completely misses the point of what made The Lord of the Rings so special. The characters in LOTR were ones that an audience cared about. You wanted Frodo to destroy the ring. You felt the burden that Frodo was facing and you cared about his plight. I barely cared about any of these dwarves. The only one you really know is Thorin, and you understand that he wants his home back, but you don’t really care if he gets it or not. It is not like the fate of Middle Earth is at risk or anything if these Dwarves can’t find a place to live. The rest of his dwarves are generic and forgettable. I know barely any of their names after watching these films. Peter Jackson wastes nearly an hour having a dinner scene when we first meet the dwarves. This was a perfect time to get to know the dwarves, but at the end of it, I knew none of them. I never felt like the dwarves were in any danger either. The Lord of the Rings established early on that nobody was safe, but this film, mostly because the book was aimed at kids, never really puts the dwarves in any danger.
The film also tries too hard to link back to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are several scenes added that are not in the book that lead back to the first trilogy. They really weren’t necessary. To link back to the LOTR, they really only needed to show Bilbo getting the ring and it would have been enough. We don’t need to see all of the other plot points this movie stuffs into it. There is a whole sequence with a brown wizard nobody cares about. It was tacked on and forced, which is how so much of this film felt. The only scene I found interesting was when Bilbo gets the ring from Gollum (Andy Serkis). It is by far the most interesting scene of the film and the only time that this Hobbit film feels like a Lord of the Rings movie.