Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)
Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Graham McTavish, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christorpher Lee, Sylvester McCoy, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm Epic Fantasy Adventure
An Unexpected Journey begins with a hauntingly familiar theme*, leading into a prologue that could have been a missing scene from The Fellowship of the Ring. There is a clever segue to make it clear that Martin Freeman is playing a younger version of Ian Holm’s Bilbo from The Lord of the Rings films.
I was at a midnight showing in a not terribly populated area, and yet there were six, count ’em six, showings (including 2D, 3D, and HFR 3D) in that first half hour. Judging by the crowds, all of them were sold out, too.
The novel The Hobbit was written before The Lord of the Rings –it is a simpler, lighter story. In adapting it the screen, Peter Jackson faced the dual challenge of handling a prequel after a successful sequel and trying to please both fans of the original material and fans of the previous movies. Not an easy task, by any means.
I am a fan of both The Lord of the Rings books and Jackson’s adaption of them, and I was happy to see many of the things I loved about the movie trilogy return. Why argue with success?
Like The Fellowship of the Ring, there is a quest, this time comprised of a group of dwarves led by Thorin Oakinshield (Richard Armitage). The group is not as culturally diverse as the Fellowship, and with fourteen instead of nine, it’s sometimes easier to count than take role at critical junctures. Tolkien also saddled many of the dwarves with similar sounding names: Bifur & Bofur, Oin & Gloin, Fili & Kili. But the filmmakers rose to the challenge, and via clothing and accessories, hair and beard color and styles, jewelry, etc., each dwarf has a distinct look to go with their personality.
Early in the film, Gandalf orchestrates a meeting between Bilbo and the company of dwarves. Like many scenes that are closely adapted from the book, it is exceptionally well-handled and very entertaining. After dinner, the dwarves sing the eerie, haunting, incredibly moving “Misty Mountains.” Later, the melody line turns up as their theme at times of adversity.
Radagast the Brown (Sylvestor McCoy), one of Gandalf’s peers, has an expanded role from the book, and he makes quite an impression, with his quirky mannerisms and odd headgear. Watch for his unusual method of conveyance.
There are a lot of high points within the nearly three hour film. The entire cast turns in top-notch performances, especially Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, and Andy Serkis. The beautiful backdrop provided by Howard Shore’s sweeping, epic, haunting soundtrack. Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) taking a meeting. Bilbo’s epic encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis), which could have been a disaster and was so very well done, including amazing facial expressions.
Everything was done with care and superb attention to detail.
I had a few minor quibbles that did not keep me from enjoying the movie. Rivendell still looks like a matte painting when seen from a distance. There was a battle sequence that took place almost entirely over a series of conveniently placed, poorly constructed plot devices that didn’t have a lot of justification for being there.
Overall, it’s a well-done, sweeping adventure that takes you on a real emotional ride. You really want the characters to triumph, and in the end, that’s what it should all be about.
Go see it.
*If it’s not familiar, you’ve missed out on some of the best fantasy films ever made. Go out and rent, buy, or stream The Lord of the Rings trilogy. You’ll be glad you did. Promise.
Elektra Hammond emulates her multi-sided idol Buckaroo Banzai by going in several directions at once.
Elektra lives in Delaware with her husband, Mike, and the cat herd of BlueBlaze/Benegesserit catteries. When not freelancing or appearing at science fiction conventions she travels world-wide judging cat shows.