'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' (2012) Movie Review

Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Martin Freeman in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Photo: Warner Bros. / MGM

How did Peter Jackson and team manage to turn all 310 pages of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit" into three films (410 if you count the appendices)? Easy, just add several back-story inserts, plenty of walking and a lot of chasing, pausing only for brief moments of discussion after which all that was discussed will be ignored.

It has been nine years since we last followed a group of fantastical characters as they walked around Middle Earth and with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure we are followers once again. Only this time realizing a story one-fifth the size of Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" novels has been needlessly stretched out into three films as commerce continues to drive art.

Where Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy was a financial risk, The Hobbit trilogy is a financial certainty and with 3-D and three films it's going to mean big bucks for Warner Bros., but after watching this first installment it's quite clear no more than two were necessary.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Grade: C+

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is a Warner Bros. release, directed by Peter Jackson and is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

The cast includes Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Orlando Bloom, Christopher Lee, Richard Armitage, John Callen, Stephen Fry, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Stephen Hunter, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Lee Pace, Mikael Persbrandt, Aidan Turner, Luke Evans, Evangeline Lilly, Barry Humphries, Benedict Cumberbatch and Billy Connolly.

Taking place approximately 60 years prior to the start of Fellowship of the Ring, we meet young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he's approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to partake on a quest to help a group of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitrage) to reclaim their home on the Lonely Mountain and the riches within, now guarded by the dragon Smaug. We learn of the dwarves' demise in an opening where no character's name is remembered and Smaug attacks and lays waste to the dwarves dwelings, sending them off into the wild without a place to call home.

Bouncing from that moment in Middle Earth history into a present day setting, we see an elder Bilbo (Ian Holm) who narrates the opening of the story before we're whisked back in time. Bilbo, Gandalf and the league of dwarves set off on their journey where they will soon face several obstacles over the course of nearly three hours, after which we realize, the journey has just begun.

Wizards on sleds driven by bunny rabbits, mountain trolls, orcs, goblins, snarly dog creatures, a shadowy Necromancer, dwarves, hobbits and elves all play a role in what is to come. Bilbo meets Gollum (Andy Serkis) and even Frodo (Elijah Wood) shows up for a spell. Everything about The Hobbit feels familiar, which means none of it feels new. I can't say I was overly entertained, but I will say the two hours and 45 minutes weren't numbing. Instead it felt as if I was watching deleted scenes from the original trilogy, deleted because they are hardly necessary for the story.

One such needless moment that sticks out like a sore thumb comes as the group of travelers is crossing a rocky mountain pass. The mountains come to life amidst a rain and thunder storm as giant rock monsters throw boulders and punch one another in their rocky heads. Why this was necessary when the threat to our protagonists is clearly zero is beyond me and much of the film plays out in the same fashion. One moment of peril leads to the next and each is resolved by the likeliest of means, be it the opportune arrival of Gandalf or the return of the giant eagles that, for whatever reason, don't just fly this group all the way to their destination even though it's right there in plain sight.

I was thankful, however, this wasn't nearly as goofy as I expected it to be, though the opening 20 minutes or so where we're introduced to the dwarves -- the names of most of whom I can't place with their faces -- is a bit of a slog.

This isn't to say the film is a total loss. The casting is spot on, though, to be fair, the majority of the cast are returning members from the Rings franchise even though Holm, Wood, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett are only seen briefly. The new cast members include the actors that make up the band of dwarves, while the rest are either men in rubber suits or CG creatures, primed and perfect for the film's 3D environment, but I can't just leave it at that.

I saw The Hobbit in High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D where instead of 24 frames per second as films are traditionally projected, the presentation is shown at 48 frames per second, which brings an unsurpassed measure of clarity to the picture, but it isn't altogether perfect. It takes some time for your eyes to adjust, but even, then where the precision of the image is welcomed, there were times it had the appearance of an over-cranked Charlie Chaplin film.

I noticed it almost immediately as Ian Holm made his way through his home and it appeared as if he was moving at a rather rapid pace while other moments seemed perfectly natural. There is also a bit of a jitter whenever the camera pans across a scene. Any hesitation or lack of fluidity in the motion causes a stuttering effect in the picture that becomes the focus of attention rather than the film itself. Perfection clearly has its downsides, but this is obviously the first stages in what could be an impressive new filming technique even if, right now, there are moments it looks like nothing more than the cheap roller-coaster visuals of Disneyland's Star Tours.

On a more positive note, the effects are immaculate. The abundance of CG creatures are so impeccably realized you can't help but marvel, but it does get to a point where enough is enough and if these orcs and goblins must be in the scene, then won't one of them pick off a few of these dwarves to get the pack down to a more manageable size?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first installment in a trilogy that is already overstuffed. This doesn't make it a bad movie per se, but with the excess of scenes in a story that doesn't call for "more", by the time the third film ends it will be a matter of "finally" rather than breathless satisfaction and a desire to watch it all over again.

I'm sure a good film can be found in what will likely be close to nine hours of on screen material once all three films are finally finished. But by the time you get done with Part One you'd be right to be frustrated at the knowledge you have to wait another year for Part Two only to realize you'll have to wait another seven months after that for it to finally come to an end. It may make the studio money, but it's a terrible way to go about doing it. Not to mention, it damages a good story.


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  • Chris

    Looks like this one is gonna be forgotten when the noms come out.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/AS/ AS

      Well that's the thing. I have no interest in this movie but I always watch all of the Oscar nominees. So I don't want to have go out and pay money to see it if it doesn't end up getting nominations.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Owen/ Owen

        I'm sure it'll still be around in January when the noms are announced.

        • Arturo

          Yea it will most likely still get a few nominations

    • drew sandoval

      Except vfx, which look tremendous.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Criterion10/ Criterion10

    Oh, boy. I didn't expect much from this one in the first place, but after reading many different reactions, it looks as if the final nail has been hammered into the coffin. I'll still check this out, but my expectations aren't very high.

  • Anymouse

    Not surprised by the mixed reactions. It's clear Jackson is milking what needn't be milked. Why on earth a single, relatively short book needs three films is beyond anyone. Harry Potter and Twilight sufficed with two and did well enough, so why couldn't Jackson do the same? A very sad case of quantity over quality. This probably would have been ten times better as the first part of two.

    • adu

      Really? And what part from the movie would you like cut out extensively so they could have crammed everything into two movies without any character development, context, and forming a relationship with LOTR?

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

        To be fair, there really is no character development and the relationship with Lord of the Rings is a given from the opening minutes. Plus, the only thing crammed in are several silly moments of peril, most of which are entirely useless in relation to the story.

        • adu

          Well, it is a kids book, so I am not sure what to make of 'silly moments of peril'. So what do you call the first 30 minutes of the movie involving the prologue, Bilbo and the dwarfs, if not character/narrative development? Even the first LOTR spent much time with the backstory and setting up context.

          Anyways, to each their own, people not looking forward to the movie in the first place will not find anything to win them over. It's a simple light adventure story that is time-heavy :)

          • Anymouse

            As you say, it's a kids book, and I've read the book before. I can't recall anything particularly notable in terms of character development, other than the fact that Bilbo, Gandalf, etc. are all very British in characterization and most of the dwarves are fairly indistinguishable. I think Jackson could have made two exciting and tightly-paced films that would have been more enjoyable to watch rather than three very drawn-out ones. This is just an opinion, of course, but based on critical reaction so far, I think most would have preferred it that way. I'm all for detail and context and all that, but if it doesn't really do anything to the overall film other than slow it down, better to leave it to the extended cut on DVD/Blu-Ray or something like that. That way both purists and general audiences can both be satisfied.

            • adu

              You make a good point and I understand. That said, I do think as far as Middle Earth goes, Jackson as always made the movies more for fans and hopes the general audience will be drawn in because of the visuals and action. I was that audience when I first saw LOTR (had never heard of Tolkein). I consider myself a fan of what Jackson creates/adapts, and run time has never been a problem for me despite him stretching the material. I dont mind long movies as long as the characters are interesting (I loved The Master after all). But you are right, he could have kept the extra stuff short and made two movies to keep interests of everyone in mind. I just love the fact that he believes in detail and it shows clearly in the production.

          • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

            You asked about character development and I was simply saying there isn't any. As for the prologue, I don't even know who the dwarves are.. I only know Thorin and he is about as one-note as it gets. To say it's a kid's book is also sort of a cop out since it's not a film made strictly for kids just as Lord of the Rings wasn't.

            • adu

              What I meant was the sillier parts of the movie are probably with the kids in mind, since that encapsulates the book, but Jackson always wanted to make a generally lighter movie which gets darker in later installments. Judging by reviews, that's what we are getting.

              • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

                "Judging by reviews, that's what we are getting."

                You're doing a lot of judging without having seen the movie for yourself, which is fine. I saw the movie and based my opinion on that. Different strokes, I guess.

      • Susan

        There's a lot to cut out, including whole characters and scenes.

  • Winchester

    I think this is one multi year journey I'll skip entirely. Which I likely was going to do anyway.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

    I'll still probably go see this just for the 48 frames per second. Even though it's been getting a mixed reaction, I still want to see how the new technology works out.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Owen/ Owen

    I haven't seen the movie yet, but I already find myself agreeing with your last paragraph. The book has just enough story for one 3-hour film and anything more seems totally unnecessary... I love the Lord of the Rings films but I'm finding it harder and harder not to get disappointed in advance.

  • Arturo

    I'm a LOTR fan, but compared to the original trilogy, it seems like Jackson might have fumbled with this one. Another film this month that does not meet expectations, other being les mis

    • adu

      I wouldn't let others lower your expectations. Most of the luke-warm reviews stem from the 48FPS and film length it seems. For the first issue, just watch it in 2D, at least for the first experience. As far as length goes, this is the shortest Tolkein adapted Jackson movie and it takes almost just as long to get rolling as Fewllowship of the Ring did. Also many are disappointed because they are comparing it with LOTR, which is setting yourself up for a let-down. It just does not have those stakes and is a children's book so was never meant to be taken as seriously as LOTR though Jackson will do that as we get into the next two. It relies on entertainment value and epic scale which it possesses plenty of. Remember, it will always be LOTR's little brother, but as Leremy said in his review (film.com) if you are looking for nostalgia, it works really well. That works for me!

      • Susan

        Wait, have you seen it adu?

  • John

    The needless bit with the "rock monsters" i think you mean stone giants as mentioned in the book is incredibly IN THE BOOK , doh

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Doesn't matter, in the book, out of the book, made up... it's worthless in the movie, which is what I'm reviewing.

      • adu

        This is all part and parcel of adapting a book, for you it does nothing, but with those who have read and enjoyed the endearing book it is many of the cool yet brief moments in it. I know the eagles bother you as well, but those were in the book too. This is one instance I am glad the director kept fans in mind not critics. So most of the so called 'rubbish' according to you is coming straight from the book, which is what you want it to be close to, but not as long, you want it not to feel like LOTR when the adventures are similar, down so some geographical locations, with less apocalyptic stakes. My dear Brad, you may as well skip the next two movies, as thankfully Jackson wont be making any of them under 2 and a half hours or excluding what you think is unnecessary.

        As far as this franchise goes, I am so glad some it needs fans to succeed not critics.

        • Tdog

          Well said.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          I just wanted a good movie that takes into consideration good storytelling rather than what is simply "cool". I can think something is cool while at the same time realize it bogs down a movie, you clearly don't separate the two, which is fine, but to say this is strictly a divide between "critics" and "fans" is a bit closed minded.

          What did you think of the film by the way?

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Will-E/ Will-E

          But as a filmmaker, you can't allow the less cinematic aspects of a book drag your film down. Look at LotR. No Tom Bombadil, scenes moved around, the last 100 pages of book iii from Two Towers are condensed to a few minutes. The challenge of adapting a film isn't how are we going to film scene x or scene y, it's making the film feel propulsive and tight.

          • Susan

            This guy gets it.

    • Tom

      Interesting that LOTR left out the Barrowites and Tom Bombadil (I assume to keep it to 3 episodes), yet The Hobbit adds in footage to get to 3 episodes. I loved reading The Hobbit but it was a lighter read than LOTR hardly worthy of 3 episodes based on its content. I agree with the observation that Warner Brothers may have put money above the artistry.

  • Josh Z

    You mentioning Disneys Ride "Star Tours"= (to quote Laremy) CRUSHING IT!

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Travis/ Travis

      I don't know. It seemed a little harsh to Star Tours. I was thinking, "C'mon. Why do you have to use this ride as an insult?"

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

        Not really an insult, but it's interesting you see it that way. In a recent interview he even mentions Star Tours as inspiration and how he directed the King Kong ride at 60fps.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Travis/ Travis

          I just saw the reference to "cheap roller-coaster effects" to be used as a critique. Although it kind of makes me as bad as some of the other people on this page-I'm just trying to defend something for the sole reason of I have an emotional attachment to it (it was my first ride). I didn't read that interview, thanks for the link!

  • Raul

    That's very good The Hobbit didn't get an exellent reviews, I hope that TDKR get the best picture nomination

  • Cloudsaga

    Everything said in the negative reviews are what I thought of the fellowship of the ring when i first saw that, it took me a a couple of goes before i warmed upto it, then when two towers came out i was a major fan. I just know not to watch it in 3D.

  • The Jackal

    I'm still excited for this film. Also, in this specific case, I don't believe Peter Jackson is trying to "milk" the franchise as you put it Brad. After the success of LOTR and King Kong, Jackson pretty has free reign to do as he likes. I believe, like millions of fans worldwide, Jackson truly enjoys spending time bringing Tolkien's world fully to the big-screen. In 1996, The Hobbit was going to be a single film. By 2007, Jackson wanted to explore the adventures of Bilbo. It wasn't until nearly the end of shooting last year that Jackson informed the cast of his intention to film a final chapter (based primarily on the 120-page appendix to LOTR).

    Therefore, unlike Hunger Games, and Twilight, the trilogy aspect seems to have developed organically and not by a studio demanding more films for the sake of more films. This decision seems to stem from Jackson's desire as an artist to more fully explore the world he so lovingly has crafted.

    Thems the facts

  • The Jackal

    Also, most fans wish that films could more fully explore their favorite literary works. Expanding Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows into two films worked brilliantly. Less so with Twilight. The decision to split Mockingjay into two parts may prove artistically successful. Turning what could have been a three hour film into a nearly 9 hour epic allows a director to explore characters, subplots and various details which would have otherwise been impossible. Fans of Tolkien will eat this film up.

    I'm confident that in July 2014, when we step back and look at the trilogy that was "The Hobbit or There and Back Again" we will see it as a finely crafted work of 21st Century filmmaking.

    Thems the facts

    • adu

      Totally agree with The Jackal, and that's what I was trying to say Brad, these movies will be swallowed up by fans more than critics who clearly have limited to zero knowledge of the source material. Where fans get excited to see certain scenes (big or small) depicted on the big screen, critics find them 'useless' to the story. That is where the divide is. It's not closed mindedness, it's different strokes as you said.

      • adu

        Here is a link to Peter Jackson and Ian McKellen defending the 3 part Hobbit. "Anyone who thinks Peter Jackson would fall for market forces around him rather than artistic integrity doesn’t know the guy or the body of his work,"

        I know you will brush this aside Brad, believe it or not some people will take as much Middle Earth as they can get. Nice to read a different view in any case.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          You confuse longer with better and you haven't even seen the movie. I based my opinion on the movie, you base yours on the book without seeing the movie. After all, do you expect Jackson and McKellen to say, "Oh, certainly, it's a cash grab to make it three movies"?

          Fine, it isn't a cash grab, it's just poor filmmaking.

          • adu

            I agree Brad, I am just saying the scenes you thought were bad, are from the book. Poor film-making? I'll take that ;)

            I can't defend the film-making aspect of it without seeing it, but I can defend the content. If that makes sense :)

        • Chris138

          It's a total cash grab. I don't care what anyone involved with the film says, they'll never admit it. This book does not need to be broken up into three films. Two was even more than needed, honestly.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/jaybob/ jaybob

      No they don't. What they want is a film that is page for page, word for word adaptation. What they want is the filmmaker to make the film they personally see when they read the book (of course, every one should realise, no two people read see the same thing when they read the same thing).

  • John Deacon

    "But by the time you get done with Part One you'd be right to be frustrated at the knowledge you have to wait another year for Part Two only to realize you'll have to wait another seven months after that for it to finally come to an end."

    Didn't it take a year to wait between the LOTR 's movies back when they first came out? Baring that it mind, it seems you just didn't like the movie (or you just don't dig middle earth, and want to complain about things that aren't even a problem.

  • Scott

    Exactly what I predicted with this. LOTR is a grand, majestic story, and even that got tedious with the often-parodied "they're walking, walking, journeying, more walking, more journeying" shots and Return of the King's slavish following of the 800 endings, where the audience sighed in resignation each time you realized the end wasn't really the end.

    The Hobbit -- being less eventful and exciting in the first place -- didn't stand a chance . . . especially when cash-grab demands an unnecessary trilogy stretch. Or, to quote the first film, "Like butter scraped over too much bread."

  • Joe

    Wow. It seems you guys are trying to get this Brad guy's approval on this movie. That's a shame. Whether the critics like or dislike, I simply don't care. Those giants hurling stones at one another for sport is part of the book, and I wanna see them. I need no approval on behalf of Peter Jackson. The talking animals part, and the animals serving food to the dwarves part, I don't think should be included. Just like in LOTR with the talking eagles, not included. Such things are to capture the minds of kids.

    I watched FELLOWSHIP where someone in the room complained the whole time that the movie was too long. It was irritating. After a while he left. But I loved it. I would have been happy if Fellowship had been split in two parts like the book, so that there could have been an extension on Bree with the hobbits meeting Strider, and the letter of Gandalf, and Barliman and all. "three is company" and "shadow of the past" in more detail. And the second part with the council, the nazgul on wings flying towards the fellowship in the boats, while orcs shoot at the from the eastern shore. Legolas jumping on the bank and shooting down this black rider from the air as it aproaches, and the orcs wailing and cursing as their black captain falls on the eastern shore.

    Who cares what the critics think!!!

    • adu

      I hear ya...I'm gonna stop now. You are absolutely right Joe. I normally dont get pissed off at critic's opinions, but I went a bit over-board because this story is something I treasure.

      Sorry Brad :)

  • Mark

    Wow lot of arguing lol. Brad can u just answer this for me, if I enjoyed lord of the rings will I like the hobbit? I dont know much just that its prequel with bilbos journey. I'm not some die hard ringer fan, but like fantasy, and cgi. How would say it compared to the fellowship since this is the first part of a prequel trilogy?

  • Rayzr

    C+ = ok movie? Right?

    Dang it, Brad. Every time I see a movie, I usually agree with your review on it. I don't wanna agree with this, but I know I will (though I may not admit it, probably never will :P). I hope it gets at least a B- from me, cause I love my Rings.

  • Steven

    Brad, I noticed you didn't really mention a thing about Martin Freeman's performance.

  • Susan

    I own all the dvds of LOTR. I own them on blu-ray as well. I was also lucky enough to catch a screening of it last night.

    I was very underwhelmed by the movie as a whole. It was plodding, desperately lacked character and was, more often than not, tedious. Letdown of the year by miles and miles.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Cordia/ Cordia

    The Hobbit is a well made film, with some good moments in it. but it is just too long..some scenes could been cut easily without hurting the end product.

    that said, i really liked the thing of going back to middle earth, Peter Jackson is a good filmmaker and know what his audience wants, but he didn't try anything new storywise what is something you could hold against him.
    Technically the movie was really wel done, the 48fps worked for about 70% of the time for me if i didn't include the first 20-30 minutes when i was adjusting really hard and that scene in the beginning with the lonely mountain and all the dworfs really was bad looking with my eyes, i guess how more movies you see the more you will notice the fact that it is in 48fps. but after i was used to it it began to work well and with some of those landscape shots it really looked amazing. It supports the 3D really well in some scenes and the 3D wasn't annoying at all. some shots were even great in 3D like the last 'battle'.
    Martin Freeman made a fine Bilbo and some other members of the cast were great too, but there were 13 dworfs..i don't remember all of those names after i see the movie..how could i care about if they die or not? I still was a little moved by the movie but that was more because of Bilbo then the Dworfs.

    so i have mixed feelings about this adventure, but i would still give a very solid grade to the movie because of the last hour and the way i was entertained throughout the whole movie, and it made me believe the next movies will be better than this one.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kimjyn/ kimjyn

    First, I can't believe you gave this movie the same C+ you gave Les Miserables which by comparison, deserves an "A" - for being artful, a far better adaptation of a book, and far more entertaining. The Hobbit has nothing, absolutely nothing original about it that you haven't already seen in the Lord of The Rings, the Two Towers, and The Return of the King--I give Hobbit a solid "D-" - dull minus creativity. I can't believe Jackson will waste millions on sequels--he should feed the hungry with his money, not make horrid remakes.

  • Zhash Johnson

    Judging from the first film, 1 3-hour movie or even 3 90-minute movies should do the trick. 3 3-hour movies are COMPLETELY unnecessary! This movie suffers from KKS. (King Kong Syndrome)

  • Zhash Johnson

    I agree with kimjyn! I personally would give the film a C rating.