TOLKIEN MAGIC DRIVES “THE HOBBIT” TO AN EPIC ADVENTURE
A Film Review by Tim Riley
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (Rated PG-13) Maybe I’m not the optimal reviewer for “The Hobbit,” but it’s the major film of the week, with Warner Brothers having persuaded its competitors that the box office only has room for one big epic release.First of all, I’ve never read the J.R.R. Tolkien novels and I barely made it through the first film of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
Now along comes “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” which is a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings,” or so I believe, since the action takes place 60 years earlier. The thought of watching a prequel stirred dread in my soul, if only because George Lucas, it can be fairly said, ruined the whole notion with the dreadful “Star Wars” prequels.
Being a novice to this whole Tolkien business, I was pleasantly surprised that “The Hobbit,” at least to this uninitiated amateur, was much more entertaining than I reasonably expected. Still, director Peter Jackson appeared to be in no rush during the film’s opening act to get things moving at a decent pace. Instead, there is a lumbering amount of exposition to set up the raft of characters.
Nevertheless, for the apprentice viewer, there is much to be established, and aside from Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Wizard, it’s easy to get lost and fail to distinguish between the dwarves, elves and trolls. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) lives a contented, peaceful existence in his cozy home of Bag End in the Shire. You see, Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys the complacency and quiet enjoyment of his wooded paradise.
Meanwhile, a group of 13 rowdy dwarves, led by the stoic, legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), seeks to reclaim their lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome Dragon Smaug.
To this end, the warrior dwarves, who are apparently unfamiliar with basic hygiene, show up at Baggins’ little Hobbit home, barging in as uninvited dinner guests.The party crashers are all part of the Wizard Gandalf the Grey’s (Ian McKellan) plan to draft the reluctant Baggins into a journey that will travel through the badlands of Middle-earth.
The destination lies somewhere to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, but to get there the group has to travel though some really treacherous lands, where constant peril abounds. This is where it gets interesting. After an initial slow pace, the action heats up with many battles so fierce and intense that it should delight any action junkie, if not a rating stronger than PG-13.
In these fights, the hardy group takes on Goblins, Orcs and deadly Wargs, as well as a mysterious and sinister figure known only as the Necromancer. I know that if “necro” is part of the name, then death surely follows. What I don’t know are the differences between a goblin, an orc and a troll. It may be an issue of size, but of this I am certain, these are some of the ugliest creatures to roam the Middle-earth universe.
As time goes on, the initially timid Baggins gains confidence and strength. These qualities are put to the test when Baggins meets the creature that will change his life forever, namely Gollum (Andy Sirkis). Gollum is a weird little dude who lives in a cave. On the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Baggins, now alone with Gollum, discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him.
Aside from Gollum’s playful yet oddly dangerous behavior, this creature mostly speaks gibberish and loves riddles. Baggins is put to the test on an intellectual scale. The most remarkable thing to come from this encounter with Gollum is that Baggins gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring, one that holds unexpected and useful qualities. The simple, gold ring is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth, and so it will play a big part in the future.
Let’s face it: whatever carping comes from critics who take apart Peter Jackson’s efforts to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision to the screen, the die-hard fans will likely not care.“The Hobbit” runs almost three hours, and so it demands a lot of attention as well as patience, at times. But from my vantage point, I would say the next installment will be worth seeing.
For the here and now, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” proves to be, at least for one who cared not so much for “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, an unexpected pleasure.