The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)

Thin, like butter scraped over too much bread

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pleasant enough film, and transports one back to the world of Middle-earth, pronounced as “Middle-earse” if your name is Ian McKellan. Though, this is clearly not the land we left with 2003’s Return of the King. This is a happier place, a less scary place, where goofy wizards chase around on rabbit-drawn sleds and goblin decapitations come as easy and without consequence as drawing breath.

Tolkien, and by consequence Peter Jackson, has hit upon the innate charm of going on an adventure with a troupe of allies. Whether it's a serious quest to destroy a ring, or one with less gravitas, say, to expel a dragon from a hoard of treasure; it's magical stuff and the reason fantasy tales are so enduring. Just slap together a band of raucous dwarves, a self-doubting halfling and a senile sorcerer and off we go! An Unexpected Journey follows this template closely and the result is not unexpected at all: if you have the desire to travel around New Zealand's green pastures and misty mountains again, this is the film for you.

Beyond that, it regrettably misfires on many of its goals. The portents and signs were ominous enough when Jackson announced he'd transform the children's book into a three-movie juggernaut, added to by passages from The Silmarillion. The desire to create another Lord of the Rings-style trilogy is clear as day, but the material doesn't support such ambitions. As a result, the film is overly long without having terribly much to say in the first place. It's a case of borrowed glory, as one after the other wink and nod to the original films flashes by, including its basic structure and cameos that have no value beyond pleasing the audience. The worst offender in this is the Rivendell conversation with Saruman: tediously filled with superfluous exposition.

It's a bit of a surprise how cheap and hasty An Unexpected Journey feels every now and then. It's an uneven experience. It's supposed to be visually breathtaking, but true wonder can no longer rise where computers have filled in and augmented every detail of every landscape. Some digital creatures look better than others. Worse is the film's indecisive tone: one moment it reaches vainly for the gravitas of Lord of the Rings, the next it indulges in farce. And that's before the Goblin King comes and, I shit you not, throws away an elven prop with the words “Made in Rivendell? Bah, Second Age. Couldn’t give it away!” Lord of the Rings – Pawn Stars Edition.

At the end of three hours of dwarven mischief, I was pleased to have been offered a return to Middle-earse, but also exhausted and dulled at the same time. So little in the quaint story that is The Hobbit warrants such preposterous grandeur and spectacle. It's not a bad feature in any regard, just a tone-deaf and stupendously long one.

Roderick Leeuwenhart


  1. I totally disagree on this one. I think for a movie it should not matter at all what the book it is based on was. The movie should be viewed by itself, since otherwise it is impossible to make movies that show a different take on the original story. Jackson certainly had to add a lot to the book to be able to turn it into three movies, but by itself this cannot be an argument for or against it. A filmmaker can add or remove as much as he likes from a book, the point is whether the movie stands strong by itself.

    1. But that was never an argument I made. All I said was that the source material didn't translate very well into a good movie, in and of itself. I agree that you shouldn't, ideally, judge a thing from one medium to the next. My main criticism is that the picture doesn't manage to be interesting enough for a three hour epic, despite being made with quite some flair.

      But hey, just wait a few days until I post my thoughts on the second film, which will be a lot more positive :)