Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Gray
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Ken Stott as Balin
Aiden Turner as Kili
Dean O’Gorman as Fili
James Nesbit as Bofur
Graham McTavish as Dwalin
Jed Brophy as Nori
Adam Brown as Ori
John Callen as Gloin
Stephen Hunter as Bombur
Peter Hambleton as Gloin and William the troll
Mark Hadlow as Dori and Bert the troll
William Kircher as Bifur and Tom the troll
Manu Bennett as Azog the Defiler
Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Barry Humphries as The Great Goblin*
When I heard that there was going to be a trilogy based on The Hobbit, I was immediately skeptical. How do you cram a single novel into three movies? Well, I must say that this particular film does a better job of it than some that was to come later. It’s definitely not on par the the Lord of the Rings adaptations, but it is quite acceptable.
Our story is about Bilbo Baggins, who you might recall as being a retired adventurer in LOTR. In his younger days, he actually dislikes the idea of adventuring. But destiny is about to call. The wizard Gandalf comes to his home with a band of homeless dwarves. These dwarves are deliberately messy guests to send the message: “We’re tormenting you and staying until you agree to come along on our adventure.” But it’s when the description of the adventure sparks Bilbo’s buried-under-the-surface interest in seeing what’s out there that he decides to come along.
The acting is quite solid. Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo: innocent, uncomfortable away from home, and with a strong sense of duty. Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, and Ian Holm, are all LOTR veterans who are back to play their old roles and do good jobs in them. The dwarves, are performed well as a poor people who seek to reclaim the home they lost to the dragon Smaug (but he doesn’t appear yet). I remember reading some reviews that expressed surprise that the other dwarves don’t speak in Gimli’s over-the-top deep voice. I can explain why. Gimli was something of a comic relief character. These dwarves are nothing less than deadly serious. So it’s no wonder that they speak in a more normal way.
As for the story, it’s mostly true to the book from the beginning to when the giant eagles save the company from the orcs. The classic scenes are all done basically as I envisioned them, especially Bilbo’s game of riddles with Gollum in which losing means death.
I have to wonder if any of those responsible for the look played the game The Battle for Middle-Earth II because the Misty Mountains have a look very similar to how they looked in that game. On the other hand, giants appear at one point, but bear no resemblance to how they appeared in that game.
One problem I do have, and one that will become much worse in part two, is the extra stuff added. Some LOTR characters who aren’t even in the book make appearances. This is in a discussion of a new threat to Middle-Earth that will explain why Gandalf eventually has to leave his current group to deal with the greater problem. All this is obviously added to somehow stretch an adaptation of a third of a novel out for three hours.
In all fairness, though, it does make sense to explain in greater detail Gandalf’s departure. It’s just the motive that gets me. Let’s not kid ourselves. The reason this novel is adapted in a trilogy is to make more money. In pursuit of this goal, storytelling suffers a bit.
Still, the character interactions do help redeem things. In particular, there are scenes that reveal Bilbo’s cultural difficulty with being away from home. But as he notes, at least he’s got a home. At the moment, the dwarves don’t but seek to get their home back. So Bilbo becomes determined to help. Also, the heated rivalry between head dwarf Thorin Oakenshield and dwarf leader Azog the Defiler is similarly handled well.
I must say, I can recommend this movie. Though not quite as good as its “predecessors,” The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pretty worthwhile cinematic experience.
Overall: 8 out of 10
*I noted in my reviews of the LOTR movies that each of them had a secondary villain whose name was not mentioned by name. This tradition continues with The Great Goblin.