When Guillermo Del Toro left the directorial duties on The Hobbit to pursue other film projects, I was disappointed. As much as I loved Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy as a kid, the thought of Del Toro’s take on Middle Earth and The Hobbit excited me greatly. It was only a few minutes into Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey that I realized this was always Jackson’s film to make. And after viewing it, I was certainly glad he did.
There was much controversy leading up to the release of the first film in this trilogy, starting with the fact that it is part of a trilogy. The Hobbit is a relatively light novel, one that certainly does not need three films to tell its story. Jackson, however, decided to expand the novel, and include elements from other Tolkien stories.
And while this film feels like a first part to a much longer story, the expanded material, for the most part, fits in wonderfully. Some of the additional material, in fact, makes for some of the most intriguing elements of the film. That said, while the film is never dull, knowing that this is not the end of the story, makes you wonder where it is going. This affects the pacing of the film.
The pacing is never too much of an issue however, as the adventure and fantastic characters keep your attention on screen. Martin Freeman, as the young Bilbo Baggins, is one of the more genius bits of casting in years. He plays the reluctant hero perfectly, and is just about as likeable a lead as you could possible hope for. The cast members that return from the original series are all fantastic, the stand out being an older Ian McKellen playing a slightly younger Gandalf. His iconic wizard is less confident this time around, and McKellen is at the top of his game.
It seems that everyone who returned to Middle Earth with Jackson and McKellen, did so with just as much enthusiasm and skill. From Andy Serkis’ fantastic, but short, return as Gollum, to Howard Shore’s beautiful score, this prequel trilogy does not feel forced or lazy –at least, not yet.
It is a hard film to judge, as it is only the first part of a trilogy of films that are entirely connected. This film does not have a real ending, it simply ends a third into its story. While this is an issue, it does not stop it from being a fantastic adventure film that is funny, exciting and beautiful to look at.
The film’s look is important to mention, as the fact it was shot in 48 frames per second is seen as almost more significant than the film itself. I was worried going in, as the reaction to 48fps had been almost exclusively negative leading up to release. The first couple of shots looked quite bizarre, almost as if the characters were moving too fast. However, I quickly became adjusted to the frame rate and began to enjoy this new form of cinematography. It does not look cheap, or like a ’80s BBC production as some have suggested. It looks beautiful, and makes the 3D and CGI look real. The detail is simply stunning, as the screen becomes a window with a world beyond it.
I saw Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring on opening day when I was ten years old. I instantly fell in love with Jackson’s version of Middle Earth. It was my Star Wars, and it makes me incredibly happy to find out that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not my Phantom Menace.
There is no doubt that it is an occasionally messy film. One that is hurt by the fact it has no true ending. That being said, it is a small price to pay for being able to spend three hours in a world you love, with a great filmmaker as your guide.