Ten years after the Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas, Peter Jackson’s latest memorial to J. R. R. Tolkien has opened to the public. Where the trilogy covered a book per film, this time The Hobbit has been split into three films covering different aspects of the same book.
Within the cast there are a lot of familiar faces – Ian McKellen has returned as Gandalf, Ian Holm is back as old Bilbo (used mostly for framing), as well as Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as Elvish Lord Elrond and Lady Galadriel respectively. There are several well-placed cameos too – Elijah Wood’s return as Frodo was used to frame the opening of the film, setting it as a flashback during Bilbo’s writing of the Red Book just prior to the start of the original trilogy while Christopher Lee reprised his role as Saruman for several brief scenes.
Onto the plot: as can be expected, The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey follows the plot of the book closely, staying true to its roots. A lot of backstory to the world of Middle Earth is covered, and this exposition is handled well although it does tend to tell more than show. Throughout the film, historical reference is made (like in the first trilogy) to events not directly connected to the plot, but which affect the wider world.
From the start, the film is lighter, more whimsical than the original trilogy and in many cases this humour works well; especially in scenes like the dwarves cleaning after the feast the film really shines – that’s not to say that the lightheartedness works well in all places. At times there does seem to be a cliched, and at this point slightly tropic trend towards big, brutish characters with squeaky voices/behavior not really suited to their position – like Skids and Mudflap in the recent Transformers films, or the robots in Doctor Who: Dinosaurs on a spaceship. In both cases the subversion irks (although younger children may adore it) because it feels forced. Other than that though, the characters worked well. The returning cast stayed true to form (Andy Serkis spoke at length during filming about how difficult he found it to resume the role of Gollum after ten years away) and the newcomers (mainly Martin Freeman and the dwarves) each brought their own magic to their roles – though young Bilbo did at times dip into common Martin Freeman mannerisms seen throughout his career.
Throughout, you can see the effort, love and devotion applied to all aspects of the film, from the dialogue between characters, the pacing (splitting between action and gorgeous shots of New Zealand’s scenery as needed to give viewers time to digest what they are watching), the scoring and the effects.
There were enough hat-tip moments that fans of the first trilogy will recognise while at the same time the film stands well enough alone that it can – and will – act as an entry point for a new generation, unfamiliar with Jackson’s previous works.
Overall, The Hobbit was everything expected of it, and a worthy successor to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It should go down as a hugely successful hit and will keep the Tolkien estate afloat for a good many years to come.
What did you think of our review? How about your views on The Hobbit? Did you like the book? Let us know in the comments.