The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey clocks in at 169 minutes. That is 11 minutes shy of three hours. Just to be up front, I feel that no movie needs to be over 2 hours long. Especially when so little happens…but I digress.Peter Jackson directed Heavenly Creatures in 1994 and The Frighteners in 1996; then in 2001 he presented the beginning of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy: The Fellowship of the Ring.
The movie has a consistent look with the LOTR series, again shot in New Zealand, it is stunningly beautiful. Again – it is way too long.The story begins with the Old Bilbo talking with Frodo on the night of his party (this is the same starting point as the LOTR movies). He then begins to write the epic story of his journeys. We then get to see the young Bilbo, a quiet stay-at-home type Hobbit as he is visited by Gandalf the Gray, and asked to join thirteen dwarves on a mission to re-take their homeland from a dragon. The dwarves meet up at Bilbo’s, and after eating everything he owns, they leave in the morning – Bilbo deciding at the last minute to join them. They set out towards the lonely mountain to rescue their homeland (or, more appropriately, their home-underground-land) from Smaug - the dragon who chased them out some 60 years prior.
That actually sounds like a lot of stuff happening when I write it out that way; the problem in the movie is the great swatches of time between those events where people are standing around, looking off in the distance wistfully, singing, riding ponies, or worse – walking.The good news is that this is where Peter Jackson excels. Where his version of King Kong seemed overbearing and pretentious, that same style fits these movies perfectly. The cast is all very good:
· Martin Freeman as Bilbo – the perfect choice for this role: charming, unassuming, and sweet. He was perfect in the original Office, fantastic in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and is currently wonderful on Sherlock.
· Ian McKellan returns as Gandalf and goes back to being gray in this movie. The last time we saw him, he had been promoted to Gandalf the white. What exactly is the wizard color progression? Because we do find out in this movie that there are brown and blue wizards as well.
· Richard Armitage plays Thorin, the lost dwarf prince/king and really – this is his movie. He does a great job and is very regal. He’s the one who spends a lot of time looking off into the distance wistfully, but his kingdom was taken from him by a gold-digging dragon, so I suppose it’s warranted. You may have previously seen him as Guy of Gisborne on BBC’s Robin Hood series.
· There are twelve other actors playing dwarves, and since you can barely tell them apart in the movie, I’m going to list them all together here: Ken Stott as Balin; Graham McTavish as Dwalin; William Kircher as Bifur; James Nesbitt as Bofur; Stephen hunter as Bombur; Dean o’Gorman as Fili; Aidan Turner as Kili (him I actually recognized as he is the vampire on the BBC Being Human); John Callin as Oin; Peter Hambleton as Gloin; Jed Brophy as Nori; Mark Hadlow as Dori; and Adam Brown as Ori. That’s a lot of dwarves.
· Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett return as Elrond and Galadriel respectively, and the elves are equally as annoying in this movie as they were in the LOTR movies.
· Christopher Lee returns as Saruman the white. He shows up briefly to berate Gandalf for believing there might be a necromancer about. He also seems to berate Gandalf for hanging out with a company dwarves and wants them to stop, however Gandalf had the dwarves sneak off without him – pretty clever.
· Incidentally, the necromancer is Benedict Cumberbatch – or, more accurately, a puff of smoke that is credited as Benedict Cumberbatch. Perhaps he will be more corporeal in the next movie?
· Bret McKenzie of Flight of the Conchords fame plays Lindir the elf, and Manu Bennett of Spartacus (tv show) fame plays Azog – the giant pale orc that just won’t quit!
· Ian Holm (still don’t trust him, thanks Ridley Scott) and Elijah Wood appear as old Bilbo and Frodo to begin the film.
· The most striking performance is of course, Andy Serkis as Gollum. The performance capture technology is amazing and Gollum is a little more spry in this movie than the LOTR movies. After all, he’s happily in possession of the ‘precious’ at this point, and living in his cave eating fish and the occasional goblin. The “Riddles in the Dark” sequence is brilliant and the buildup to the scene is extensive. Gollum is the thing people wanted to see again, and the filmmakers know that and do not disappoint. Serkis deserves an Oscar, but then again, he has for a long time. He also is credited as second unit director on this.
All in all Hobbit 1 is a visually stunning, well-acted, beautifully directed really, really long movie. I enjoyed it. I did see it in 3D, which I would recommend. I did not see it in IMAX, so I did not get the 9 minute Star Trek trailer. I also did not see in in the extra special fancy 48 frames per second. If anyone did, let me know if that made it feel shorter.6 out of 10. Gained points for Azog and his white warg. Lost points for the fact that we never see Smaug….but then, gained points for not revealing Smaug to us, and leaving that for the next movie. Lost points for the horrifying scene where giant spiders attack Radagast’s hut as he is comforting a dying hedgehog – everything about that scene was insane – so maybe gained points for that too? Also, gained points for Radagast’s sleigh pulled by jackrabbits – awesome.
Bonus Video 1: The scene from Clerks 2 that discusses LOTR. WARNING - this clip has bad language, and negative slurs..and is gross, You've been warned! I don't necessarily share Randall's views...well just the one about there being only ONE trilogy.
Bonus Video 2: Pan’s Labyrinth…gives you some idea what this would have looked like if Guillermo del Toro stuck with it…as it is, I cannot wait for Pacific Rim.
Bonus Video 3: Martin Freeman in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Bonus Video 4: Andy Serkis in my favorite clip from 13 going on 30 – ironically that's him with Jennifer Garner and Mark Ruffalo, doing his own dancing and not performance capture.
Bonus Video 4: Cast interviews!