‘The Hobbit’ an unexpected trilogy
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a beautifully visualized and oftentimes fun return to Middle-Earth, but eponymous hobbit Bilbo Baggins describes it best.
“Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” he said in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” part one of director Peter Jackson’s celebrated “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Baggins wasn’t referring to a subsequent trilogy based on a rather short children’s book, but it’s an appropriate fit.
You can tell “The Hobbit” wasn’t meant to be a trilogy, but even though there’s not enough butter for the bread, “An Unexpected Journey” is still a tastier treat than most.
When Jackson first announced he’d be directing “The Hobbit” as two films, he was met with some skepticism – welcome skepticism, mind you, as his take on “Rings” left many fans wanting more. But his and the studio’s decision to squeeze another film out of it seemed either a money-grabbing stretch or a Tolkien scholar’s delight.
The result is actually both. Jackson peppers the first installment with material from Tolkien’s appendices, notes and manuscripts, blending – and not always seamlessly – the dark overtones of “Lord of the Rings” with the happy-go-luckiness of “The Hobbit.”
This creates an unbalanced atmosphere that doesn’t always work to the film’s advantage, but still manages to pad it out into a well-rounded first installment.
Set 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “An Unexpected Journey” starts the tale of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, BBC’s “The Office”), a well-to-do hobbit living in his beloved, picturesque home of the Shire.
His easy life is interrupted when an old friend, wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, “X-Men”), appears to seek Bilbo’s participation in an adventure.
A band of 13 wayward dwarfs, led by their deposed king, Thorin (Richard Armitage, “Captain America: The First Avenger”), is seeking to reclaim its lost kingdom, seized decades ago by the malevolent dragon, Smaug. And they want Bilbo to accompany them and personally sneak into the dragon’s lair.
For Bilbo, the choice is simple: Absolutely not. But some persuasion from Gandalf stokes his adventuresome spirit and eventually convinces him otherwise. The journey that ensues takes them well out of Bilbo’s comfort zone and into the perils of the world beyond, including encounters with evil orcs (one of whom is pursuing a vendetta against Thorin), a dimwitted but deadly group of hungry trolls, a horde of goblins, stone giants and much more.
This also includes a fateful encounter with the twisted creature, Gollum (Andy Serkis, reprising his role from “Lord of the Rings”), resulting in Bilbo’s acquisition of a certain magical ring, which will eventually change the face of Middle-Earth.
Meanwhile, a mysterious darkness is growing powerful in a nearby forest, prompting Gandalf to suspect that something far more sinister is afoot.
In interviews, Jackson explains how Gandalf’s investigation into the matter – which is never detailed in the novel, but rather much later in “The Lord of the Rings” – will comprise a major part of this new trilogy, showing fans what happened off the page, as it were.
While seeing more of Tolkien’s material visualized is a pleasant surprise, these dark overtones unevenly impose their vibe on the “The Hobbit’s” inherent lightheartedness, causing the film to awkwardly bounce from often juvenile humor to scenes of violent intensity.
Furthermore, Jackson’s choice to bookend the new trilogy with scenes featuring Elijah Wood and Ian Holm reprising their roles from the first trilogy seems superfluous at best. While most likely intended to add continuity between “Hobbit” and “Rings,” these scenes instead drag out the proceedings longer than necessary – in an adaptation that’s already dragging out the proceedings longer than necessary.
Conversely, it means spending more time in Tolkien’s wonderful world, which, in essence, is a good thing.
In that vein, “An Unexpected Journey” still offers plenty of fun and memorable moments, thanks mostly to its fine cast, stunningly beautiful cinematography (Andrew Lesnie, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy) and epic score (Howard Shore, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy).
Put simply, it’s a continuation of Jackson’s love letter to Middle-Earth and its colorful denizens, even if the handwriting is kind of muddled.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, visit http://www.mountaintimes.com/movies.