By Kayley Erlandson
“I am searching for someone to share an adventure,” Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellan) proposes to timid hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). Bilbo, however, is a creature accustomed to comfort and prefers reading a book over brandishing a sword. “Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things,” Bilbo says of adventures, “Make you late for dinner.”
The adventure in question involves helping 12 rowdy dwarves reclaim their homeland and steal back their gold from a greedy dragon named Smaug. In order to sneak into the mountain castle where Smaug hoards his plunder, the dwarves require a small “burglar” who can pass by the dragon unnoticed, and Gandalf has chosen light-footed Bilbo for the job. The leader of the company and heir to the Dwarf throne, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), expresses his doubt in adding mild-mannered Bilbo to his crew. But Gandalf insists, and the Bilbo sets out, leaving his home behind, the world ahead.
As a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 book of the same name, I eagerly awaited the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Considerably darker than Tolkien’s story, which was originally written as a bedtime story for children, director Peter Jackson’s Hobbit adds some much-needed weight and dimension to the dwarves’ backstory and references to the Lord of the Rings trilogy absent from the novel, which gives the audience ample time to get to know the numerous characters. That said, the movie shuffles along very slowly, especially when Thorin and Co. take a long break for extended exposition in the elven city of Rivendell. Hobbit forgoes the complexity of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and keeps the relatively goofy tone of the book, which honestly became off-putting at times. I’m all for some silliness in science fiction, but at times it felt almost inappropriately light (especially with some unnecessary toilet humor peppered throughout).
An Unexpected Journey offers up some strong performances from the leads. Martin Freeman was born to play a hobbit, looking the part and pulling off Bilbo’s uncertainty, kindness, and honest nature while keeping the character brave and plucky. Richard Armitage balances Thorin’s frustrated and prideful nature effectively, managing to bring dimensions to the character not seen in the book. I’m interested to see how Thorin grows as a character in the next two movies. As always, Andy Serkis gives a great performance, reprising his role as raspy-voiced villain Gollum, who somehow manages to be ominous and silly during a deathly game of riddles.
The first chapter in the Hobbit trilogy is a strong piece of cinema. The visuals are beautiful, the action is fast-paced, the characters are developed, and the story is engaging. Although director Jackson made some changes to the story, it didn’t compromise Tolkien’s original story about bravery and heroism. As Gandalf would say, every great story deserves embellishment. And in the case of The Hobbit, it’s a story worth watching.