Sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo Baggins is approached by the wizard Gandalf and embroiled in an adventure almost against his will. Along with thirteen dwarves, Bilbo embarks towards Erebor, the Lonely Mountain, to reclaim their ancient home from the terrible dragon Smaug.
(You can also read all of The Hobbit recaps.)
I have already seen the film twice, so you can guess where this review is headed. The film opens with Old Bilbo (played again by Ian Holm) writing his version of events down for Frodo, promising to tell him the whole story as he has never told it before. We learn that he has sat down to write on the day of his infamous 111th birthday party, and we get to see that it was Frodo (Elijah Wood) who hung the sign on the gate – “No admittance except on party business). He asks Bilbo about Gandalf, and decides to go wait for him. Bilbo sits down on his bench in the front garden, smoking a pipe. The camera follows an excellent smoke ring, then zooms back on to young Bilbo.
I have never before seen such a beautiful framing device. It was a great way to explain the context of the events of The Hobbit versus those in Lord of the Rings, giving fans of the movies who haven’t read the book a clear introduction. Having just read the book, I was also tickled that the opening exchange between Gandalf and young Bilbo was almost word for word of that in the book. The only thing they left out was Bilbo’s last second decision to invite the wizard for tea. But you know what? It worked anyway.
There were of course several small changes in the film, because films and books are simply not the same medium. Most of The Hobbit was written with insights into Bilbo’s mind that we cannot get in the movie. Being Tolkien, there is also a lot of background information related by the narrator to the reader, but not necessarily between characters. I thought Peter Jackson did a great job of taking all of the information in The Hobbit and Tolkien’s additional background and really fleshing out the movie. While a few things might have been changed, I could see the reason for all of it, and I honestly agreed with most of his changes. I especially liked seeing the meeting of the White Council and the urgency that was added with the Necromancer. I’ll try not to say anymore for those who have yet to see the film.
I did not particularly understand the inclusion of a certain orc (that in Tolkien’s lore was killed by another dwarf), but I do realize that it helped with the pacing of the movie. Let’s be honest, in the book there is a lot of walking, riding, and moving. That’s not the most interesting thing to show on screen, so the added tension with the dwarf helps pick up the pace and keep things from getting choppy. So while I was a bit confused when I left the first time, I appreciated it far more the second time.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” was a wonderful return to Middle Earth and a great reminder of the talent of Peter Jackson. I for one am grateful that he was able to direct instead of Guillermo Del Toro; the film feels like a seamless addition to any of the “Lord of the Rings” films with him behind the camera. Add in the dashes of Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, and other characters, and you are firmly planted again within Middle Earth.