There are inevitable questions to be raised over the decision from Peter Jackson to extend The Hobbit story over three films; taking a 310 page book and depicting it over what could well be nine hours of cinema. However, it doesn't appear so much of a soulless money maker as initially feared, as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey justifies its length with a compelling story that remains an enjoyable experience for the viewer throughout, as we make a welcome return to Middle-earth.
Set 60 years prior to where The Lord of the Rings trilogy began, we delve into the past of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is tempted into an adventure from the rather glib wizard Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen), who manages to persuade the Hobbit to leave behind his boring life on the Shire and venture with the Company of Dwarves – led by the fearless warrior Thorin (Richard Armitage), to help reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug, a journey that will require courage and spirit as they encounter several life threatening battles along the way, and a meeting with a little known creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis).
In fairness to Jackson, An Unexpected Journey does not feel like a third of one book. The Lord of the Rings films were each based on single, completed novels that individually had a structure and narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Whereas this, however, only depicts a third of one book, but you can't tell that to be the case, as it feels like a complete, well-rounded picture that concludes effectively.
As a visual experience there is much to be admired about The Hobbit also, as Jackson continues to test the boundaries of the cinematic experience, implementing the somewhat contentious 48 frames per second technique. Although the sharpness and grandness of the overall picture looks outstanding up on the big screen and in 3D, you can't deny the fact it is somewhat overbearing. The opening stages so much so in fact, it gives you a slight headache. However, eventually you do get used to it and it becomes unnoticeable, which in effect deems it a success.
The Hobbit is a far more jovial, light-hearted piece of writing by J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jackson does a good job in reflecting that, with a film certainly aimed at a younger audience than the LOTR franchise. Although such an approach works in many ways, it does cheapen the battle sequences, which do suffer. There just isn't this intensity, and the big, extensive sequences at the end are mostly quite dull, which is where LOTR came into its element. This could also be because there is less at stake, we don't care quite as much about the narrative. It's simply not such a personable story as Frodo's journey. In this we follow the adventure through The Hobbit, but he himself is wary of the task ahead and lacking in conviction, which doesn't bode well for the audience. We feel like we're in the boot of a car of which Bilbo is only sitting in the back seat.
However the more jovial atmosphere certainly caters for our protagonist, as Freeman does a wonderful job in bringing his inherently comic nature to the role, bringing a lighter touch to proceedings, slipping into Tim from The Office on occasion. Meanwhile the dwarves are all good fun to watch on the big screen, as a bunch of loutish folk who enjoy their booze. It would be nicer if they sung more songs though, because the best scene in the film is when they all sing in harmony after dinner. Now that is personable.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an enjoyable movie, yet it suffers from the hype and expectation placed around it, as although being good fun, given it's a lot of peoples most anticipated film of the year, it sadly doesn't do quite enough to live up to such a feat. So now we look to the future – and no matter how well the first may set the story up, and how the third will no doubt conclude it succinctly, God knows what's going to happen in the second; a film that already seems redundant, despite being a year away. Maybe somebody else should review that one.