As I’ve stated plenty of times, I’m about a year behind on my movie watching. So, as others are digesting THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG, I’m finally getting to the first HOBBIT movie. Hopefully it won’t be a full year until I see the next one!


I watched THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) on 12.26.13. It was my first viewing of the film.

The original LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy is a high-water mark in film trilogy history. The series lacks a letdown film, instead maintaining and exceeding its expectations throughout the run of its chapters.

There was understandable push-back when Peter Jackson announced that he was turning THE HOBBIT, Tolkien’s book which precedes the Lord of the Rings timeline,  into another trilogy all its own. It seemed Jackson was breaking the formula which made the original series work so well by watering down the source material in his insistence on extending the movie to page ratio (and, to be sure, the profit).

THE HOBBIT is a film which cannot be measured without considering the expectations it caries. One who loves THE LORD OF THE RINGS can’t help but compare it to those. Those seeing THE HOBBIT without having experienced the previous trilogy would probably not be the biggest fans of fantasy film, though that may be a gross generalization.

This first movie in the trilogy starts by giving us old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing his story down for the benefit of Frodo (Elijah Wood). Already, we start with a recall to the previous trilogy. This introduction brings us to young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) being sucked into a journey to reclaim a dwarfish homeland. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, reprising his role) pairs Bilbo with thirteen dwarfs for the quest. No one is happy. Not the dwarfs, not Gandalf particularly, and certainly not Bilbo.

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY deals with Bilbo gaining the respect of his peers as they get closer to the goal. Along the way we see old friends like Gollum (Andy Serkis), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and even Saruman (Christopher Lee). All these appearances feel more like winks to a knowing audience rather than a necessary extension of the plot (save, perhaps, for Gollum). None more so than the inclusion of Bret McKenzie: an unknown extra during LORD OF THE RINGS who garnered a line and then launched into fame with Flight of the Concords.

None of these callbacks would be blinked at with a better movie. Unfortunately, this HOBBIT doesn’t come in the neighborhood of its predecessors. The CGI, no doubt influenced by the sudden need to make a 3D movie, are alarmingly poor in the 2D version. How this garnered an Oscar nomination for special effects is a wonder. The last scene, previewing the dragon Smaug, is laughably bad. The gold filled room feels like a scene out of an early 21st century video game.

The plot is not terrible. The journey is a workable scenario. Yet the movie fails to deliver on the necessary set pieces. A run through the plains from some orcs is anti-climactic. A fight with the goblins is overly choreographed, eschewing close ups for long computer animated shots of a dwarf spinning a weapon around for computer generated goblins to jump into. Only the final battle delivers emotionally, and that is after some poorly CGId trees are dealt with.

Coincidence rules the day, here. Twice Gandalf comes at the exact moment needed for a rescue. Once, Bilbo inexplicably happens upon his party in a giant cave. Eagles save the heroes at one point, after several minutes during which Gandalf holds a staff held on to by one dwarf with another dwarf holding on to him without losing a grip. None of this is appalling in itself, but it adds up to a movie which feels as though it is manipulating an audience rather than telling a straight forward story.

All of this takes away a majorly strong performance by Freeman as Bilbo and by Richard Armitage as the dwarf prince Thorin. The story devices, the CGI, and the sometimes schticky humor don’t do those performances justice.

AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY was not nearly bad enough to make me abandon the series. Indeed, I’ll be along the next ride when it pulls up. Sadly, it does temper the expectations quite drastically.



I wanted to give Howard Shore’s music a bonus point. I suppose I could say the music is worth one and the CGI is so bad that it is worth negative two. Either way, the special effects cost this film a bonus point.



~ by johnlink00 on December 28, 2013.

8 Responses to “johnlink ranks THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)”

  1. Agreed. On every point. Great review!

  2. I understand your points, agree with some, and disagree with others. The two points I disagree with that I’ll single out are I don’t think Jackson watered down The Hobbit and while I wish more practial effects were used in some places, I think the CGI is fine and thought the final shot with Smaug was great.

    Well, written review nonetheless.

    • The shot of Smaug’s eye I thought was fine, but the room itself felt painted on to me.
      Maybe watered down is strong, but he went from turning three books into three movies to turning one book (and a little extra) into three movies. For me, it felt like the first act was stretching and the climactic moments were less climactic than in the LotR films.
      On the other hand, The Hobbit has an 8.0 on IMDB so I could very well be wrong!
      Thanks for reading, I always appreciate conflicting POVs!

      • Well, yes, there are problems with the 3 movie thing. There are benefits, too. Maybe he very well should’ve cut here and there and made it into the original two movies. That might’ve worked better. At the same time, maybe it’ll all work out once we see all three. I am thinking these might play better back to back, which is good and bad.

        Anyway, I get what you mean. Watered down may be the wrong word to use, though. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, by the way.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful comment! I know what you mean about being better played through. Those complaining that the conclusion of Return of the King went on too long were thinking of it as the end of that movie rather than the end of a 12 hour journey through film.
        And I am still excited to see Desolation of Smaug. I haven’t been turned off to Middle Earth by one movie that couldn’t meet my (probably too high) expectations.

      • True about Return of the King. I’m getting pretty tired of people complaining about the endings to that movie. I mean, the movie had A LOT of characters. The wrap up might take a little while. It didn’t even wrap up all of them (we don’t even know what happened to Legolas and Gimli, for example). So, they took it kind of easy on us.

        Sorry, for the slight rant.

      • Haha. Not at all. I agree totally.

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