It has taken my awhile to figure out how to accurately write a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Unlike the previous three Lord of the Rings films, the first part in a trilogy for The Hobbit has received less than glamorous reviews. I have been dabbling with the question of whether or not these reviews are just.
The film version of The Hobbit is in an unusual situation in that it is a prequel of a film while its book version was not. Since the novel of The Hobbit came first, the book needed to make excuses for the difference in characters, tone, and whatever else was different about the two. The film however, needed to bridge the gap for a mainstream audience to be able to enjoy the film to the same extent that they enjoyed the three Lord of the Rings films.
Peter Jackson made three relatively faithful adaptations of the Lord of the Rings.
The length and pacing concerns justify the cuts he made. He couldn’t do this with the Hobbit, as three films is a tall order for a novel, which is essentially a children’s treasure hunt story.
It is unfair to expect Jackson to recreate the magic of Lord of the Rings when he took a far different path in making The Hobbit. It appears that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s biggest fault is that it isn’t a faithful recreation of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit novel. But can we really blame him?
It should come as no surprise that Jackson would want to include as many of the actors from The Lord of the Rings in The Hobbit as possible. The only problem is that Gandalf is the only character to play a major role in both works. In order to include more cast members from Lord of the Rings, Jackson needed to get creative.
Bilbo’s role in The Hobbit needed to be recast since Ian Holm at 81 is far too old to play the young Bilbo. Holm does appear as the narrator alongside a small cameo by Elijah Wood as Frodo. Hugo Weaving and Andy Serkis could once again portray Elrond and Gollum. Gollum’s role in the film was altered a bit to more prominently feature his Sméagol persona. Jackson altered the Rivendell scene to allow Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchett to return as Saruman and Galadriel. While this provided nostalgia for fans of the movie, it undoubtedly alienated many purists of the book.
The Hobbit is not a bad movie by any means. Martin Freeman plays a wonderful Bilbo and the gang of dwarves is about as pleasant as one could expect. Thorin and his company suffer from the unfortunate predicament that they’re not the Fellowship of the Ring. Few people would pick thirteen Gimli’s over Aragorn and friends, but that’s not how Tolkien told The Hobbit.
The Hobbit suffers from scenes that feel far too reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings. The action sequences are beautifully done, but there’s still the feeling of “we’ve been there before.” That is the unfortunate result when you try to make The Hobbit more like Lord of the Rings. When you aren’t being constantly blown away by the magic, the film’s two and half hour run time feels a bit more bloated.
The Hobbit’s biggest crime is that it isn’t Lord of the Rings. Jackson should not have made The Hobbit into three films, but the end result was not bad. The problem is that Lord of the Rings consistently rank among the most popular and successful movies of all time. The Hobbit won’t come close and that’s okay. Films don’t have to be perfect to be enjoyable. If you lower your expectations for The Hobbit, chances are you’ll have a good time returning to Middle Earth.