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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

| December 17, 2012 | 0 Comments

If Peter Jackson didn’t have a passion for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, then his enterprise to bring Tolkien’s vision to the screen would be for nothing.  This is a story very close to his heart and the evidence is there on the screen.  For this venture, he has put everything in his filmmaking arsenal into his work, and it pays off beautifully.  That was apparent ten years ago with The Lord of the Rings but it is even more apparent as he begins another three-legged journey into “The Hobbit.”

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a giddy, red-blooded adventure, teeming with atmosphere; filled with dread and wonderment, action and suspense, wondrous and fearsome creatures, magic and mayhem, and of course, a quest – no great adventure has ever been without one.  The story takes us back 60 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, but this is no mere imitation.  This first leg of the trilogy breaths with a life and an energy all its own.

We catch up with the elder Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) who is about to celebrate his 111th birthday. Seated at his writing desk, he begins a journal to his young nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) who is on the cusp of a life-changing adventure of his own. The story flashes back three generations and we meet the young hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) who is cozy and comfortable in his solitary life in The Shire, thank you very much.  Soon, he his visited by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) who enlists him for a quest.  Knowing that Bilbo’s answer will be a firm no, Gandalf tells the others in the party to show up unannounced at Bilbo’s house.

The purpose of the mission is quite desperate.  Some time ago, an army of Orcs and a dragon called Smaug ripped apart the home of the dwarves and sent the survivors running for the hills.  With no home and no hope the dwarves vowed to reclaim their home.  This is the reason that Gandalf has brought 13 of their best men to Bilbo’s door.  Bilbo is reluctant but eventually agrees, mostly when he wakes up the next morning and realizes that the party has left without him.

The 13 dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf are a motley bunch but they are far from slouches in the defense department.  The dwarves are led by the melancholy Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), who is haunted by what he saw when his home was taken over.  This is not just a silly quest for weapons or jewels but the desire to return home.  You can see it in his eyes.  Bilbo’s journey is crucial to the story.  The central underpinning of the story is the mysterious connective power of home.  Bilbo has always been a home-body, more comfortable with dishes and doilies than swords and sorcery.  He complains that he is not fit for this quest, but there is a conversion in his soul when he comes to realize that whereas he has the creature comforts of home, he has to set aside his selfish concerns to help a group of men who have no home.

What follows this brave band on their journey is a nearly non-stop roller-coaster ride of adventures, some of them a great deal of fun, including a run-in with a trio of dopey trolls who want the Hobbits for breakfast. Other pitfalls along the way are thwarted by goblins, giants, trolls and orcs in a journey that is one damn thing after another.  One of the best moments takes place as the group is stuck in the middle of a brutal fight involving rock creatures the size a skyscrapers. The troup comes slowly to realize that the ledge on which they stand is actually the creatures thigh,

And yet, the best is saved for last, a reminder of one of the reasons that Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films were so special to begin with. That, of course, is the creature Gollum. As with the book, he doesn’t enter the story until nearly the film’s third act, but his entry lifts the end of the picture into something more special than just a fight. We know his story and his plight. Here his sickness for the ring is in blissful harmony, and along the whims of destiny comes Bilbo to upset that balance.

Gollum has always been representative of the power of corruption and greed. Like a drug addict he is tortured with two minds fighting over what is right and what is devoted to the addiction. Here he is, a few generations back from when we first met him. His mind slightly more focused, at least focused enough to get involved in a game of riddles. The answer will provide an exit for Bilbo from Gollum’s cave. This scene, in a way, brings the two trilogies together and helps us understand the beginnings of Gollum’s possession.

In the months leading up to the release, there has been a question of how Jackson was going to split Tolkien’s 300-page book into three distinct films.  The advantage is that in having such a large amount of screen time and such a minimal story, he is able to focus on the characters and their eccentricities.  That was something that The Lord of the Rings, as good though it was, seemed to lack.  This film has more personality and more depth and we feel for the characters a bit more.  This is a more intimate and much tighter story.  In that way it outclasses the other films.  This is the best film in the series and one of the best films of the year.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.