In the original “Lord of the Rings” saga, Peter Jackson created a world filled with visual decadence and mastery with in-depth characters and subtext to spare. With “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”—the first of the three new movies—Jackson attempted to do the same, but like any return to a place you once adored, something just doesn’t feel the same.
This tale, inspired by the J.R.R. Tolkien books, took place 60 years prior to the events in the original trilogy, highlighting the events that led Bilbo Baggins to discovering the Ring of Power. Anyone who read the book in junior high or has spent too much time online knows this involved Bilbo going on a journey to the mountain of Elebor with a company of Dwarves and the wizard Gandalf to slay the mighty dragon, Smaug. I can feel the zits growing already!
Much like the original trilogy, this entailed a lot of walking. Though some people disagree, this was not a terrible thing. On the contrary this was where the movie succeeded. Jackson proved he has not lost his touch for adventure since his last big movie, the phenomenal “King Kong,” creating a wonderland that utilized the landscape of New Zealand and improved Computer Generated Images that enhanced the oil-painting look of Rivendell to the grimy goblin domain. The sense of adventure was always present.
However, with that came a price that contributed to the disintegration of the return to Middle Earth. Though all the set-pieces were gorgeous. Many were stretched to accommodate the runtime and the next two films. More importantly, it made Jackson look like a mother not ready to let go of the child she worked so hard to raise. There was a stunning sequence in which the clan rides fighting rock giants. I can remember saying, “Wow, this is amazing…why is it here?”
This time around Bilbo was portrayed by Martin Freeman (“Hot Fuzz,” “Sherlock”) humorlessly and slightly awkward. It was a good, simple introduction to the character. But the best performances came from veterans Ian Mckellan as Gandalf—the Abraham Lincoln of Middle Earth—and Andy Serkis as the lovable, demented screwball Gollum. It was a short appearance, but like always he stole the show. There was also about a dozen dwarves, and about five had any dialog and served to be more than human filler.
There was a lot to love in “The Hobbit” from its gorgeous sense of imagination and adventure to the performances worth noticing, but it wasn’t without the problems that come with prequels. If nothing else, it’s good to know that there were legitimate flaws in the film, and not just that I’ve outgrown the adventures of Middle Earth.