Movie Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey

As a proud nerd and father, I had the pleasure of taking my family to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this weekend (and, judging by the box office numbers, so did most of the people in the world).  My kids were too young to see The Lord of the Rings trilogy when it came out, but they’ve seen them all on blu-ray, so they’re familiar with the setting and cast of characters.

First off, I enjoyed the movie.  I really enjoyed the LOTR trilogy, and The Hobbit is a nice welcome back visit with favorite places and characters.  I’m a fan of the book, and was really excited to see this movie made.

Now, that said, it is a tricky thing to revisit Middle-Earth a decade after the last epic.  What was unimaginable 10 years ago is quite common practice now; what was breath-taking is now standard.  It’s wonderful to revisit the world of the hobbits, dwarves and elves again, but just by being the second trilogy set in this world, and coming 10 years later, it’s not that the polish has worn off, but it is a matter of not seeing anything new, necessarily.  So, no easy points scored by this movie just for bringing Middle-Earth to life- been there, done that.

Secondly, I felt like we were watching the Expanded Editions in the theatre this time around, rather than tight theatrical cuts like we had with the Lord of the Rings movies.  With LotR, you had 3 books turned into 3 movies, and had to cut down and cut out anything that wasn’t the focus of the story, leaving cherished scenes out (until the Expanded Editions were released).  With The Hobbit, they’re taking 1 book and stretching it over 3 movies.  Now they have the opportunity to add in extra events and prolong scenes, and I think the movie suffers a bit for it.  I would have preferred a tight 2-hour feature (with eventual 3-hour Expanded Edition) for our entry back into Middle-Earth.  With unlimited resources and unlimited time, Peter Jackson doesn’t have to make any strict story decisions like he did with LotR – instead he gets to include everything, and lots of it.

When George Lucas updated the Star Wars trilogy with the Special Editions (and later with the prequels), technology had finally caught up with his imagination, and he was able to incorporate the stuff that he’d always wanted to – which, essentially, meant watching ships take off and land.  Seriously.  In the originals, you see the cast get into a ship, and then it’s a model or miniature flying away.  In the Special Editions, we get to see landing gear retracting and extending like crazy.  And in the prequels, there’s like 2 hours of nothing but landings and take-offs.  The technology of the time made Lucas unable to show these parts in the original films – and they were better for it.

For Peter Jackson, his landings and take-offs are group running shots.  After the dwarves leave Bilbo’s house, there must be 6 or 7 occasions where Gandalf yells “Run!” followed by 20 minutes of CGI dwarves (and 1 hobbit) running away from a threat.  And, while the giant fight was somewhat impressive, I think that entire section could have been removed without harming the story at all.  Yes, you get Thorin underlining his disdain for Bilbo, but did you need 20 minutes of flying boulders to make that line happen?

SO: The overall review.  There’s a really wonderful 2-hour movie in this nearly 3-hour film; loved being back in Middle-Earth and seeing long-dreamt of scenes in widescreen action; especially loved sharing the story with my kids (who haven’t read the book despite weekly urging).  B+

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