Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis
Synopsis: Based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien and prequel to The Lord of the Rings, this film is the first in a trilogy covering the exploits of a much younger Bilbo Baggins (Freeman). Gandalf (McKellan) introduces Bilbo to a band of thirteen dwarfs, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage). They are on a quest to reclaim their home of Erebor, The Lonely Mountain, which is now the realm of dragon Smaug.
I entered the cinema today excited, but also with a small element of trepidation. Recently, I went to see a film with high expectation, and saw a fantastic film, however those same expectations adversely affected my enjoyment of that film. The question today was, would the same thing happen again?
My fears were unfounded. An Unexpected Journey is an extraordinarily worthy addition to the cannon that has been established in Jackson’s interpretation of Middle-Earth. Jackson, Walsh and Boyens have once again worked the art of writing a screenplay that is faithful in spirit to the novel, in cases when it could not always follow the novel exactly. That said, the iconic moments are all present and correct, just as if they had jumped from the scenes in my head to those now on-screen. The first introduction of the party of dwarves…. the arguing trolls…. the riddle game in the depths of the goblin caves. All these moments are beautifully displayed, and a delight to watch.
As a Tolkien fan myself, having read many of the extended works about Middle Earth, I was glad to see how Jackson walked that fine line of getting The Hobbit onto the screen, but at the same time making it continuous with his first trilogy. In tone and style, The Hobbit is a very different story to The Lord of the Rings. It is definitely more light-hearted, and in many respects more juvenile. Jackson has perhaps to a degree muted these elements of The Hobbit, but does not entirely lose them. In this sense, it is a faithful adaptation, but also one that directly correlates with the films set later on. The inclusion of actors from the original trilogy also help maintain this sense of continuity, with Wood and Holm introducing the story, and McKellan, Lee, Blanchett, Serkis and Weaving all reprising their roles within the story.
The new additions are all fantastic, in the lead role, it is no surprise that Freeman does a fantastic job as a younger Bilbo. I think everyone agreed it was pitch perfect casting, and he has not let the audience down. He is great as the Hobbit in over his head, and his reactions to the new world around him are perfect, with a story arc which does see him evolve from stick-in the mud, to reluctant traveler to dwarf-friend. All the other dwarves are also fantastic. With so many, it is hard for individuals to shine. A few of them come through very strong however, with great characters. It shows each will probably have their own strong story by the end of three films, if they have not already. A difficult task completed successfully with such a large ensemble. Of course, Armitage stands out as their unseated King, and he injects the most heart into their quest to reclaim their home.
The film in the end does hinge on these performances. Jackson has not lost focus on character development within the film, showing once again that caring about our protagonists and their plight is key to enjoyment of the film. Given the choice, I would be inspired to join Thorin on his quest, just as Bilbo himself was. Freeman also manages to create a sympathetic character whom I would cheer on, despite having to be the complaining prat for the early portion of the film. His complaints are natural, and fitting for the character, so never once are they annoying as they are entirely justified. These are all characters in the end I want to spend more time with, and will be delighted to do so in a year from now.
From a technical perspective, of course the film is also brilliant. The cinematography from the first three films was amazing, and the ball has not been dropped here. Jackson had access to some incredible scenery in which to make this film, and the camera soaks in this natural beauty, while also superimposing fictional beauty, such as the exteriors of Rivendell. The music is also another masterstroke from Shore. There are many similarities to the original score for Fellowship of the Ring, particularly when we return to Hobbiton, but new grand themes have been introduced, including a beautiful brass based theme for the dwarfs (a snippet if which appears in the trailer below).
Clearly, with my love of the franchise, I could keep writing for many pages. Suffice it to say, I got to experience another great story based in Middle-Earth on the big screen, and am delighted to have had that experience.
5 stars out of 5