“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — A Slice of SciFi Review

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Reviewed by Michael Hickerson (Slice of SciFi Editor)

Years ago before the original Lord of the Rings trilogy hit theaters, I took part in an on-line discussion course for the original source material.  In the course of that discussion, one participant she was going to weep for every tiny plot point, side tangent  and character that was cut from J.R.R. Tolkien’s original source material.

Watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I can’t help but think that participant is finally getting her wish.  Covering the first six chapters of the original novel, An Unexpected Journey does exactly what many of us feared would happen with the original Lord of the Rings trilogy–be so slavishly devoted to the material we’d get every single moment from the novel realized on screen.

It makes for a visually rich, textured film.  However, it doesn’t make for a very interesting one.  An Unexpected Journey wavers between some compelling, absorbing scenes and a bunch of scenes that, quite frankly, would have been better suited for an extended cut director’s version on DVD or Blu-Ray.  The best moments in the film come in the beginning as we set up the storyline and director Peter Jackson teases us with glimpses of the dragon Smaug and when Bilbo (a nicely chosen Martin Freeman) plays the game of riddles with Gollum (Andy Serkis, superb as always in a role that should get him an Oscar nod, but alas it won’t).

In between those, it feels like we’re along on a journey and have to see every footstep played out on screen, with every leaf on every tree digitally rendered and calling attention to itself.

Watching the first installment, I can’t help but wonder if this is a case of stretching the material so far that it’s going to snap under the strain once we see the entire trilogy finally released.

I’m sure Tolkien will disagree and I’ll confess that while I like Tolkien, I respect his contribution to fantasy more than I like it (at least on the printed page).  As a fan of the original trilogy and how well it trimmed the fat, making for a lean, understandable and enjoyable adaptation of the beloved fantasy trilogy, I have to admit I was a bit disappointed by An Unexpected Journey.   I am hopeful that this is just the exposition leg of the trilogy and the next two installments will get back to what made Jackson’s original trilogy of films so magical.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has its moments, but overall it’s not quite as magical as it could or should have been.

Comments

  1. So, you are asking me to trust the review of person that can`t even spell the name of one of the major characters in the story correctly. It`s Gollum, not Gollem. I mean, you can`t even say you hit the E by accident. It`s not even close to the U.

    • Spelling errors are rampant on this site popping up 5-10 times a week, and THAT’S your gripe? Really? That’s not even a geek-worthy gripe, dude.

      Seriously, take a look at the other articles. One running joke is that only Doctor Who character names get spelled correctly ;)

  2. I disagree with the notion of the material from the book being “stretched.” If anything it got padded, and only from other Tolkien sources. As for trimming the fat from the the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, there was SO much printed material there that edits had to be made. Here we are given a smaller story which is also much lighter in tone and not have any of the heaviness that Tolkien’s sequel trilogy contained. Given those details I’m sure that Jackson saw that it wasn’t really all that necessary to do any trimming or editing.

    The argument could be made (although I’m merely making assumptions at this point) that due to all of the controversy Jackson received for his edits in Lord Of The Rings that he is making up for it by not only trying to keep all of the source material from the printed page of The Hobbit, but by also adding other source material as a way of apologizing to the die-hard Tolkien fans. Again, some people are going to hate it. I, along with my husband who is a HUGE Tolkien fan, happened to love it!

    • I’m not a huge Tolkien fan…as I’ve said elsewhere, I respect what he did crating the fantasy genre, but I don’t love the Rings trilogy

      That said, I really like The Hobbit as a book. And I really think the material is too stretched here to make sure we get as much cash as possible from the fans. Honestly, I shudder to think what will happen when the extended cut hits DVD.

    • Mouldy Squid says:

      I am a huge Tolkien fan and I couldn’t be more disappointed with this film. Gone is any of the wonder and charm of the original novel, replaced by the overwhelming need to be EPIC! This needless desire to be as gritty and serious as the TLoTR films has almost completely demolished any sense of fun and adventure. And the chase scene under the Misty Mountains? Nearly as overblown, over designed, over CGId as the podracing scene from The Phantom Menace.

      This is a beloved children’s book. Jackson, in his over eagerness, ego stroking and foolish desire to “live up to” his previous Middle-Earth films has more or less destroyed any resemblance to the novel itself and replaced it with a modern Hollywood action movie.

      And as for the padding out of the movies by additional sources gleaned from TLoTR’s appendices, Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion; completely and totally unnecessary. There is absolutely no need to stick this stuff in; everyone already knows what the One Ring is, everyone already knows that Gollum has it, everyone already knows that Bilbo finds it. We don’t need extraneous material to explain all of this or to “appeal to the fanbois”.

      As I read in the SF Signal review: “If The Lord of the Rings was Star Wars for a new generation of moviegoers, it’s hard not to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as something very dire: Lord of the Rings: The Phantom Menace.”

      Jackson, I am disappoint.

  3. Well as I said in my review, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It excited me, it amused me, and it emotionally moved me. I had a great time with both of the viewings I went to. I fully realize that my thoughts and feelings on the movie are clearly in in the minority and I’m perfectly fine with that.

  4. I don’t think you are in the minority, Ben. IMDB user reviews are 8.5, that’s pretty high.

    This was the best movie I have seen this year, beating ow DKR and Avengers. Not only was it true to the books but it had some of the charm that was missing a bit from the LOTR trilogy. Love love LOVED that they included the Dwarfish songs to lovely and dramatic effect. In fact my mind was a little scrambled in the beginning from all the trailers I had to sit through and the Misty Mountain song pulled me in more than any scene I can remember in movies. Very compelling.

    • I agree with you about everything you just said. Yes, the Hobbit has some of the charm that was missing from the LOTR trilogy, but I say that’s by design. It’s not as dark or as grim a time in the Hobbit as it is in LOTR. The book is much lighter in tone than the LOTR and it was well reflected here.

      As for the Dwarfish songs, I thought that was wonderful! It certainly tickled my Tolkien nerd bone, especially the Misty Mountain song. A friend of mine said it was a re-do of Aragon’s song he sings after his coronation in Gondor. There are similarities (same key mostly), but Keith and I actually (quietly) sang along with the Dwarves while watching it both times. That scene was indeed compelling, haunting and powerful!

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