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.