The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

As everyone was leaving the theatre, I heard a man asking his companions -- in what seemed a very annoyed tone -- if he would have to come back again to watch the second part (The Desolation of Smaug, due in 2013). "Well, of course," was the reply, though either his companions didn't know or didn't have the heart to tell him that there's now also a third part, namely There and Back Again, due in 2014. I'm a little nervous about the whole back and forth between two movies and three, since already the pacing occasionally seemed a bit off in this one.

I liked Bilbo, though. Ian Holm has a brief appearance in the role, but he's played here mainly by Martin Freeman of Hot Fuzz, and also the new Sherlock series with Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays a character here known only as the Necromancer. Don't get excited, though, if you're a fan; so far he's only a silhouette and some scary rumors. I was faintly surprised he was credited at all, since for this film the character might just as easily have been played by a special effect.

Anyway, one day a wizard named Gandalf asks a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins to go on an adventure. If you actually haven't read the book or at least heard the plot, then try this for a quick overview. I almost feel silly summarizing it because I keep thinking everyone knows all this already. This first movie gets you about two-thirds of the way through that summary, however, so you can see why I'm worried.

The movie also doesn't seem to play up the vast horde of treasure angle as much as the book. Here the dwarves, thirteen in all, are more concerned with getting their home back and the giant pile of gold is more of an afterthought. Leading the dwarves is their prince, Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, who was a Hydra agent in Captain America. Also along for the ride is Gloin, as in "Gimli, son of Gloin," so nice little tie-in there. They have plenty of familiar faces, which I was glad of -- Elijah Wood (9), Hugo Weaving (Cloud Atlas), and Cate Blanchett (Robin Hood, and also the aforementioned Hot Fuzz, briefly) are all along for the ride, even if only for a scene or two. Christopher Lee (Dark Shadows) is back as Saruman, just as stern and uppity as ever. And Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is still Gollum, and also the second unit director. Three of the dwarves also play the three trolls that capture our heroes, or rather provided the voices since the trolls, like the Necromancer, are mainly special effects. Oh, and Sylvester McCoy of Doctor Who plays the wizard Radagast the Brown, who was in the book the Lord of the Rings but not the movie, so is now in this movie even though he wasn't in the book. There will be a quiz later.

If it seems odd to you that the heroes of this epic tale are captured by a mere three trolls... well, it is a little odd. It really isn't an epic tale, either, compared to Lord of the Rings, though they film it like one, that's for sure. Thorin is sometimes a brilliant fighter and other times seems to have no clue about things like basic strategy. I know, he's suppose to be upset during the times when he's flailing, but still. I don't know, to me it just seemed slightly trapped between epic and silly, and I do mean silly rather than lighthearted, as sometimes happened in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and rightly so. That's how you make the epic stuff appealing, because the characters seem more real.

I mostly really enjoyed it, though. It helps to be a fan, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. While it does seem bogged down in places, it still didn't seem as long as its actual 169 minutes, which is always a good sign. And while it's nearly impossible to keep all the dwarves straight, that doesn't really matter. There's a little singing, though, so don't be shocked. it's hardly a full-fledged musical.

I'll give this one four and a quarter out of five.... with all due apologies to that poor annoyed fellow who now has to see a trilogy instead of a duology.

Bilbo Baggins, off on an adventure!


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