I have been writing about The Hobbit movie and its December release for over a year now and I have been very excited for its long-awaited arrival in theaters. My wife and I took my large family and some of their friends to see it during a prime time showing over the weekend, and before I get into any kind of review I need to provide some context. Our society is changing rapidly, and not all of it is bad. When religion was very strong in our society, it taught young and old alike about the nature of good and evil—which I spend a lot of time writing and thinking about. But in 2012 in a quest that really started in 1977 with the first Star Wars film, it is clear that mythological values in our society has moved from books into many other visual formats that explore more deeply than ever the nature of evil, and the necessity of good. I did not expect The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey to be over-the-top excellent. I just expected it to be good and an enjoyable tribute to stories I have loved my entire lifetime. As stated in previous articles here at the OW I have allowed myself to enjoy on many nights the words of J.R.R. Tokens’ many works by candlelight, or on a backyard porch under swift moving nighttime clouds next to a lantern. So I have a passion already present for the material offered in The Hobbit. Aside from that, I also followed closely the development of the film through the legal hurdles it had to pass in order to arrive in theaters under Peter Jackson’s direction, which for a long time I never thought would happen—because of the stunning success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy a decade ago. So it was with some pent-up reverence that I took my family to the movies on December 15, 2012 and let me declare that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an unexpected delight. The Hobbit as a film is jaw-dropping great and filled to the absolute brim with passion, rich storytelling, and a fully flushed out journey into Middle-Earth that will change the lives of many people who see it for the better. It is a stunningly fantastic movie—a cut from the tapestry of cinema that will set new heights of expectation from audiences permanently. I did not think it was possible to make a movie version of The Hobbit that exceeded, or even matched the effort of Lord of the Rings—but Peter Jackson has been successful in that daunting task and then some.
The Hobbit is essentially a treasure hunt that is triggered when a dragon pushes a society of dwarves from their home in the Lonely Mountain. Bilbo Baggins is recruited as a burglar/thief to penetrate the mountain and help remove the terrible dragon Smoug who is now residing there bathing his massive body in mountains of gold stolen from the dwarves. I will admit that reviewers did discourage me a bit when they reported that Warner Brothers had pushed Jackson into stretching the 300-page book of The Hobbit which is a kid’s book into three—three hour films, and that the first half of An Unexpected Journey was boring. For such reviewers, I can only say that they have become spoiled brats, and the action of The Hobbit was very intense at the end making the rather story driven beginning seem like a very different movie. But the beauty is that Jackson was able to make The Hobbit into a better story then the actual book was—which is almost never the case—without violating the literary material of Tolkien at all. Only under Peter Jackson’s direction could this have been done with such a close association with Lord of the Rings as The Hobbit takes place 60 years before the Rings films. The beginning is only boring compared to a very intense ending—more intense than any movie I can remember seeing—and I’ve seen most of them.
For me personally, I found the deep secrets and constant references to an evil that is slowly seething up into Middle-Earth to be fascinating in reference to the events of Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit takes the time to show how the seeds of evil are actually planted and how slowly over time they can emerge right under the noses of some of the wisest minds. In The Hobbit it is the wizard Gandalf who looks like a crazed fool in comparison to his mentor Sauruman the White Wizard, Elrond the Lord of Rivendell, and Galadriel co-ruler of Lothlórien. Gandalf in a scene that was one of my favorites attempts to tell these leaders of Middle-Earth of his devious plot to rid the Lonely Mountain of the dragon, but also to combat a seething evil that is emerging slowly in the cracks of society. It was my favorite scene in the film because I feel a lot like Gandalf in real life uttering the same kinds of warnings, schemes and mechanisms that I have involved myself in only to have a White Wizard type politician declare—“show me the proof of these allegations.” Evil does not grow within the honesty of critical assessment, and nobody but Gandalf and Galadriel can even remotely see it. Of course, we know that Gandalf was right and that 60 years later that evil will have arrived fully in Middle-Earth in the events of Lord of the Rings. In An Unexpected Journey Gandalf sees the evil before everyone else, and must face that realization alone—which is realistically, often the case.
In many ways Peter Jackson has done with The Hobbit what George Lucas did with the prequels of Star Wars and that is to pull back wide on Middle-Earth to tell of the events that led up to the Academy Award winning movies that were previously done. But Jackson has not violated the original Tolkien material to perform the task, he’s only added to it with previously unrelated Tolkien material about Middle-Earth which led to controversy with some critics. Usually in novel translations things get left out of a movie version of a great book. It is not often—if ever that things that were not specifically in the source novel find their way into the film version without deviating away from the source, but following it sincerely. This is what Jackson has done, and he did an absolutely marvelous job of it. Literally breath-taking in just how spectacular of a job he did—if viewers thought that Middle-Earth had been adequately flushed out in the Lord of the Rings films, The Hobbit will prove that there is much more to explore, and it is an exciting adventure all its own.
I am an old fan of these types of stories, and it is hard to impress me. But—The Hobbit impressed me in every category, music, visual effects, character development, mythological significance, plot validation; The Hobbit is successful in every single category of filmmaking splendor. And the characters go through one cliffhanger after another in some of the most astonishing conflicts that have ever taken place between characters on a movie screen. There is nothing like The Hobbit that has ever been done in any film to date. Many of the sequences step up and over Lord of the Rings in sheer brutality, and cinematic effectiveness. If the Academy Awards snub this film because of internal Hollywood politics, it will be a shame—because The Unexpected Journey deserves the same kind of respect that Return of the King garnered. This first Hobbit film is simply that good.
I could write on about this movie for thousands of pages, and still not get out everything I want to say—so do yourself a favor and go see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and enjoy the adventure of a lifetime. As Gandalf tells Bilbo in the film, “if you take this adventure you will never be the same again”—so to, will audience members never be quiet the same after seeing the first movie of a three-part Hobbit series. I am riveted now waiting for the second addition to this excellent film series titled The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug which will be entirely about the slaying of the terrible dragon that is guarding the gold in the Lonely Mountain. In the meantime, I think my wife and I will go see The Unexpected Journey about 19,000 more times. Enjoy!