Film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

posted at 11:01 am on February 3, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

Every week I plan to see a new movie and write a review, but some weeks — especially in January and February — it gets difficult to pick a film.  This week, I asked readers to choose between four films, and they chose the one that had actually been in release for a while.  The Hobbit opened nearly two months ago, but it’s still in theaters, and it’s easy to understand why.

It won’t be necessary to explain the plot of the film, as I normally do. For decades, The Hobbit has been a nearly indispensable piece of literature for younger readers and adults alike, a rich tapestry of fantasy, morality, virtue and failings.  Readers familiar with the book need no explanation, and those unfamiliar will likely not be too interested in the film, or in the differences between the film and its source material.

As Jazz noted a few weeks ago, the film does depart in some ways from the novel.  Perhaps the few years that have passed since I last read it have taken a sharp edge off of those memories, but I didn’t feel the differences as sharply as Jazz did. With that said, Jazz is correct in noting that the deviations do seem to have a purpose in allowing a much longer story to be told, which would be necessary if making The Hobbit into three movies, rather than one or two.

There is a difference in tone; the novel has a playful, joyful style suitable to young readers even when the material turns dark.  The film instead adopts the general tone that Peter Jackson used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and for good reason in terms of cinematic consistency.  Jackson wants the series to stand as a six-volume epic, while J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit to stand alone, and then wrote his LotR series with a different purpose in mind.

With that said, the film stands on its own very well.  The pace mixes well between action sequences and more thoughtful interludes, not unlike the literature itself. Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth is as breathtaking as ever, and the returning cast bolsters the continuity Jackson obviously values.  While the film runs 169 minutes — relatively brief for a Jackson film — it doesn’t feel at all too long.  Even the additional or extended parts of the movie are gripping.

Some of the cast are returning from the LotR trilogy — especially Ian McKellen as Gandalf, who gets plenty of screen time.  Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), and Christopher Lee (Saruman) return for a key sequence in Rivendell, while Ian Holm (older Bilbo) and Elijah Wood (Frodo) make cameo appearances for a framing sequence that accounts for the LotR trilogy to have already been made.  Andy Serkis returns as Gollum, too, in a shorter representation of the key riddle game that will turn out to be the crux of the whole series.

The new members of the cast bring their own qualities to the epic.  Martin Freeman (Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) reminds us that the original novel was in part a treatise on the manners and etiquette of English country gentlemen as well as a story about dwarves, Hobbits, and a dragon.  Freeman’s Bilbo starts off wanting nothing to do with adventure and ends up becoming a reluctant hero.  Richard Armitage starts off heroically and becomes somewhat more menacing as Thorin.  Ken Stott’s Balin has the most to do of the other dwarves, the rest of whom tend to run together as a group rather than stand out as individual characters (a failing that, as I recall, the novel had as well).  Sylvester McCoy’s Radagast gets more attention in this movie than in the novel, but I’m not sure that was necessarily a good thing.  Barry Humphries, on the other hand, is terrific as the voice of the Great Goblin, a creature that provides a couple of moments of fun in an action sequence that gets a little out of hand toward the end.

Although I loved the original trilogy and knew that Jackson’s technical brilliance would make The Hobbit watchable and entertaining, I still felt some trepidation over his tendency to play with the characters and plot, and worried that he would make a hash out of the story.  Instead, he has successfully integrated The Hobbit more tightly into the narrative of The Lord of the Rings, and made the first installment into a wonderfully entertaining opening act.  I can’t wait to see the next installment.

The Hobbit is rated PG-13 for violence and intense situations.  While the book is accessible for younger readers, there is a big difference between reading about battles on the page and seeing them re-enacted on the screen.  The audience at my theater included a few younger viewers and they seemed to handle it well enough, but I’d be careful about having kids younger than ten or eleven years of age watch the film.  My granddaughter is 10, and I’m not sure she’d be up for it — or for the length, either.

Addendum: Jazz was right about the Bunny Sled of Doom, though.


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I disagree, I thought it went way too long. I didn’t think it would would ever end, in fact, had it not been for my wife I would have gotten up and left.

boomer on February 3, 2013 at 11:04 AM

I think Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is easily the most endearing character of the LOTR/Hobbit films. Freeman does a great job.

itsnotaboutme on February 3, 2013 at 11:06 AM

I saw the Lord of the Rings trilogy last year, and enjoyed them all.

My daughter and I saw The Hobbit a couple of weeks ago — we enjoyed it as well. I haven’t read the book. I understand that the filmmaker expanded the material by including stuff from the LotR appendices.

aunursa on February 3, 2013 at 11:07 AM

The movie has been out since the beginning of December, and you are just reviewing it now?

Maybe you’d like to offer your review of “The Hunger Games” while you’re at it!

pilamaye on February 3, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Thanks for the review, Ed!

dogsoldier on February 3, 2013 at 11:09 AM

The bunny sled was unnecessary. I just hope the 3rd move isn’t all unoriginal material.

In the LOTR when the group was traveling in the country it didn’t seems a dangerous as in the Hobbit.

Oil Can on February 3, 2013 at 11:09 AM

*spoiler alert*

*spoiler alert*

Do not read any farther if you haven’t seen The Hobbit yet!

Who else wanted to yell “Use the ring! Disappear, you idiot!” when Bilbo confronted the badguy & the big wolves near the cliff? I mean, c’mon!

itsnotaboutme on February 3, 2013 at 11:09 AM

I loved seeing Bilbo and Gandalf again. The best line from the movie (to my recollection) was:

“So Gandalf, do you think he’s a great wizard, or is he more like… you?”

I burst out laughing at that.

Stoic Patriot on February 3, 2013 at 11:10 AM

The movie was OK… there were a few scenes worthy of an eye-roll or two but overall it was worth the price of admission.

The 48 fps, on the other hand, was tough for me to get used to. All the elements of a high-budget film were there – the effects, sound, lighting, acting, and editing were superb… but the whole thing looks like it was shot using low-budget HDTV cameras from the local news van.

weew on February 3, 2013 at 11:11 AM

I think Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is easily the most endearing character of the LOTR/Hobbit films. Freeman does a great job.

itsnotaboutme on February 3, 2013 at 11:06 AM

Agreed…

Bookended by the great Ian Holm

workingclass artist on February 3, 2013 at 11:12 AM

Every week I plan to see a new movie…

Ed must have struck oil out there in Minnesota. If I went every week in New York I’d have to take out a bank loan.

Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth is as breathtaking as ever, and the returning cast bolsters the continuity Jackson obviously values.

Tru dat…I mean it was a good flick, but then my favorite of the LOTR trilogy was The Two Towers and not the RofK.

JetBoy on February 3, 2013 at 11:13 AM

pilamaye on February 3, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Well, I do explain why I’m reviewing this film in the first paragraph. And my review of Hunger Games is here:

http://hotair.com/archives/2012/03/24/film-review-the-hunger-games/

Ed Morrissey on February 3, 2013 at 11:14 AM

Finally opens in China later this week. My son’s been looking forward to it.

DarkCurrent on February 3, 2013 at 11:15 AM

Needs a Les Mis review. Come on Ed, you know you want to.

mythicknight on February 3, 2013 at 11:33 AM

I haven’t seen the Hobbit yet. Is the music as ever present in the Hobbit as it was in the LotR? I found that very annoying and it really took away from presentation of the story.

Dusty on February 3, 2013 at 11:34 AM

The movie was very entertaining and fun. We saw it in 3D but would have been great without it. It kept a good pace but of course the ending might as well have said ‘come back next time with your 10 bucks in hand if you want to find out what happens next.’

CW on February 3, 2013 at 11:34 AM

The battle scene followed by slaying the Big Fat Goblin ruined it for me. The answer “That will do!” is worthy of an Animaniacs episode. After that, a Tolkien fan in me died a little with every minute.

Archivarix on February 3, 2013 at 11:40 AM

As usual Ed…shoddy work. The Hobbit is perhaps the worst book ever written. Certainly not “a rich tapestry of fantasy, morality, virtue and failings.”

That is of course unless one enjoys singing elves and gratuitous! use! of! the! exclamation!

Slade73 on February 3, 2013 at 11:47 AM

Ed,

This is for you – Slade from the high house, station 5 – PULL!

Ko

koaiko on February 3, 2013 at 11:58 AM

The battle scene followed by slaying the Big Fat Goblin ruined it for me. The answer “That will do!” is worthy of an Animaniacs episode. After that, a Tolkien fan in me died a little with every minute.

Archivarix on February 3, 2013 at 11:40 AM

That’s it. What Jackson has done to Tolkien over the last decade or so is a drawn-out desecration.

rrpjr on February 3, 2013 at 11:58 AM

Thanks Ed, for the review. I haven’t watched it as yet. Now that you give it the thumbs up, I will. Did watch the LOTR trilogy, and loved it. If its upto LOTR standards, I’ll watch it.

tommy71 on February 3, 2013 at 12:05 PM

koaiko on February 3, 2013 at 11:58 AM

hehe

skeet skeet

Slade73 on February 3, 2013 at 12:07 PM

As usual Ed…shoddy work. The Hobbit is perhaps the worst book ever written. Certainly not “a rich tapestry of fantasy, morality, virtue and failings.”

That is of course unless one enjoys singing elves and gratuitous! use! of! the! exclamation!
Slade73 on February 3, 2013 at 11:47 AM

*looks around Hot Gas*

“I have no recollection of this place.”

Anton on February 3, 2013 at 12:10 PM

My career is creating digital art and some of that is digital characters and animation, but I’m really sick of the overuse of CG characters and absurd action in movies recently. The goblin battle, the troll fight, the thunder giants, the ridiculous action in these scenes dosen’t help the story, it makes the audience’s mind turn off.

warden on February 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

If you like fantasy try Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Tolkien just gets lip service. Most haven’t even read the crap.

Slade73 on February 3, 2013 at 12:21 PM

Richard Armitage starts off heroically and becomes somewhat more menacing as Thorin.

Uh, THE Richard Armitage? The former deputy Secretary of State who was the source of the “leak” about the not-so-secret CIA officer?

An Objectivist on February 3, 2013 at 12:29 PM

My career is creating digital art and some of that is digital characters and animation, but I’m really sick of the overuse of CG characters and absurd action in movies recently. The goblin battle, the troll fight, the thunder giants, the ridiculous action in these scenes dosen’t help the story, it makes the audience’s mind turn off.

warden on February 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

+ 1 million.

I supported the original idea to make 2 movies instead of 1 – there really is a lot in The Hobbit that was skipped merrily over by Tolkien that would easily make 2 movies when drawn out into a Jackson LOTR prequel – but I think everyone knew what was going to happen when we heard it was going to be 3 movies: pointless CGI fluff.

The storm giant scene in particular was cringe-inducingly bad. I think what really made that and every other extended CGI scene awful was that even people who hadn’t read the book knew from the yawn-inducing kabuki of it all that no one was actually going to die.

I hate to use four letter words and compare it to the Star Wars prequels, but it’s hard to say there’s no comparison. This is like what the Star Wars prequels would have been if all the space between the CGI was not also terrible. So, better, but with a disturbing resemblance.

HitNRun on February 3, 2013 at 12:36 PM

I thought Guillermo del Toro was slated for this one. I was looking forward to his version/vision too. I wasn’t dissapointed with Jackson again, but del Toro certainly would have given this one a “stand alone” feel beside the LotR series.

onomo on February 3, 2013 at 12:50 PM

I haven’t gotten to see this, yet. I do plan to. I’ve been a long-time Tolkien fan. LOTR was different than the books. It pretty much had to be. I expect this will be not as good as the book. Like LOTR, I’ll most likely enjoy most of it anyway.

For those of you complaining, when has any movie been as good as the source book?

trigon on February 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Having read a number of reviews, I was a bit leery of seeing The Hobbit, especially about the 3 hour length. However, we all loved it and were quite surprised when it was over, we didn’t feel the length at all.

Can’t wait for Part 2.

Love the score too. Richard Armitage can sing to me anytime!

Common Sense on February 3, 2013 at 1:07 PM

One battle after another, on and on, more of the same, but the 3_D Imax was great!

There are not very many movies in the theater that I want to see, this was better than most of them, and better than sitting home.

Fleuries on February 3, 2013 at 1:32 PM

@Slade73 Are you trying to compare Jordan to Tolkien? Lol. There is no comparison, honestly. I’ve read both and Jordan is good, but Tolkien is great. Thats the only diff.

tommy71 on February 3, 2013 at 1:33 PM

6 thumbs up from *Possum Holler.

*America’s version of the Shire.

PappyD61 on February 3, 2013 at 1:38 PM

I was a huge fan of Tolkien as a child and to me the hobbit had a stand alone feel. The pacing and tone of the story was different. The Lotr trilogy was more of a grim war epic designed to showcase western concepts of morality and good/evil. Imho Lotr is the American epic comparable to paradise lost or the illiad. The trilogy explores the major conflicts facing us at beginning of the 20th century such as war, fascism, an industrialization. As in the book, we were also at an end of an age and the book is a giant allegory for that loss. Anyway I better quit before some resident literature major tells me how wrong I am and how terrible his writing is.

The hobbit was a child’s fantasy book so I find it unfortunate to see Peter Jackson return to give this movie the same feel with many of the same actors. The Gandalf of Lotr is not the same Gandalf in the hobbit.

jhffmn on February 3, 2013 at 1:58 PM

Since I trashed (not really) ed here I feel obliged to comment. The review is better than I expected but the older review by jazz is better IMO.

I agree with most of the other comments here, save the h8ters. What you get out of a movie based on a widely read classic book really depends on your expectations going in. I read a few other reviews before seeing it. One of them (NRO, iirc) was spot-on. I enjoyed the movie for what it was, though I would prefer to see a story like this in a single film.

I have no idea why the bunny sled of doom was in it.

I have read that del Toro had a fair amount of input but had to leave because of delays and other commitments.

gh on February 3, 2013 at 2:37 PM

I am surprised at the negative reaction to the The Stone Giant sequence. I thought it brilliant, especially since it is the first time in the film Fil and Kili are separated and the anguish on Kili’s face when he realizes it is worth the price of admission. Fore-shadows all kinds of things. And for those you think The HObbit is lighter in tone just remember that 3 main characters die at the end of the book. For the most part in LOTR everyone gets to go home and live happily ever after until the end of his days.

The big issue for Jackson in this scene is that The Hobbit has all kinds of creatures that LOTR does not — stone giants, talking animals and the like. In order to maintain the LOTR tone all that has to either be eliminated or be done carefully. Jackson gave us the giants as elementals — parts of the mountain roused by the thunder — and it works. It will be interesting to see what Jackson does with Beorn’s talking animals and the talking spiders in Mirkwood.

As the Tolkien fans on this sight know, Tolkien tried to re-write The Hobbit in a darker tone to weave it more fully into the History of the Third Age but couldn’t make it work. He eventually gave up trying.

IdrilofGondolin on February 3, 2013 at 2:38 PM

jhffmn on February 3, 2013 at 1:58 PM

Excellent points, well stated.

rrpjr on February 3, 2013 at 2:59 PM

My greatest critique of this film is meta: It makes me wish that, if the desire is now so great to milk the franchise for box office revenue, that “The Two Towers” and “Return of the King,” both of which struck me as manic to the extent that both drama and character were sacrificed for brevity’s sake, had been expanded to at least two films each. (“The Fellowship of the Ring,” oddly enough, still feels about right to me…but then I was never a fan of Bombadil.)

Blacklake on February 3, 2013 at 3:04 PM

I’ve read the complete trilogy more than 40 times, and The Hobbit probably 15.

The trilogy trailers assured that I would never waste time or money seeing any of The Lord Of The Rings films.

This trailer assures that I will accord The Hobbit the same level of interest.

Siddhartha Vicious on February 3, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Tolkien is great. Thats the only diff.

tommy71 on February 3, 2013 at 1:33 PM

Tolkien is great if you enjoy singing elves and dancing hobbits. I don’t.

You being such a ha-uuuuuuuge fan :) explain Tolkien’s over exuberant style – i.e. his singular love of the exclamation

Slade73 on February 3, 2013 at 3:29 PM

I watched ‘Casablanca’ last night… and part of ‘The Maltese Falcon’…

REAL movies…

Khun Joe on February 3, 2013 at 3:36 PM

REAL movies? You mean like Demolition Man? The best of all time

Slade73 on February 3, 2013 at 3:40 PM

For those of you complaining, when has any movie been as good as the source book?

trigon on February 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

I actually knew one. “Taps” (1981) was better than the book is was based on as the latter had a lot of psycho-babble in addition to the main story which the move kept. But you are right about 98% of the time.

(“Grapes of Wrath” is excellent in both forms. I prefer the movie’s order of the camps because I like the feeling of hope, but when I read the book, I could not put it down until every page had been read [about 5:30 in the morning].)

Kevin K. on February 3, 2013 at 3:42 PM

I watched ‘Casablanca’ last night… and part of ‘The Maltese Falcon’…

REAL movies…

Khun Joe on February 3, 2013 at 3:36 PM

Those days are gone, aren’t they?

Cleombrotus on February 3, 2013 at 4:20 PM

For those of you complaining, when has any movie been as good as the source book?

trigon on February 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Ben-Hur.

The screenplay, the story line, and the characters are actually better.

Cleombrotus on February 3, 2013 at 4:22 PM

Siddhartha Vicious on February 3, 2013 at 3:18 PM

I’m with you. But I made the mistake of watching the first LOTR film. I’ve finally been able to expunge the images from my mind.

rrpjr on February 3, 2013 at 4:31 PM

For those of you complaining, when has any movie been as good as the source book?

trigon on February 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

It’s rare, but I’d also say LA Confidential. Ellroy’s novel is terrific on mood and style, but the plot is a mess. The movie is much more coherent.

Ed Morrissey on February 3, 2013 at 5:23 PM

My career is creating digital art and some of that is digital characters and animation, but I’m really sick of the overuse of CG characters and absurd action in movies recently. The goblin battle, the troll fight, the thunder giants, the ridiculous action in these scenes dosen’t help the story, it makes the audience’s mind turn off.

warden on February 3, 2013 at 12:11 PM

Yeah this really dragged down the movie for me. I liked it, but Jackson needs to restrain himself and I am now less enthusiastic about the next two movies.

Daemonocracy on February 3, 2013 at 5:30 PM

For those of you complaining, when has any movie been as good as the source book?

trigon on February 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

The novel is the steer in the pasture. The movie is the steak on the plate. A lot of butchery involved. Results are rarely good. Coppola’s “The Godfather” was best I’ve seen at translating mood and character of the novel into an equally “page-turning” movie. B-grade and genre novels usually make best adaptations. Turning epics and great literary works to film can go wrong in too many ways.

rrpjr on February 3, 2013 at 5:40 PM

I thought it was ghastly – and not because I have an overdeveloped sense of loyalty to the original material, either. The first act was repellently treacly; the whole happy dwarf mealtime mayhem scene was enough to give you cavities. And the score! It’s like being buttonholed by a loudmouthed drunk. It just doesn’t stop underlining every precious moment of cute. Hate, hate, hate. Too many flashbacks, too much empty backstory, too much cuteness altogether.

datripp on February 3, 2013 at 8:20 PM

For those of you complaining, when has any movie been as good as the source book?

trigon on February 3, 2013 at 12:52 PM

Blade Runner, No question.

notalemon on February 3, 2013 at 9:25 PM

As others have mentioned, the “Bunny Sled”, Radigast in general, and “That will do it..” scenes were revoltingly silly and cartoonish. Seems like there was some hollywood executive additions so that the kiddie demographic wouldn’t get scared.

notalemon on February 3, 2013 at 9:41 PM

*were

notalemon on February 3, 2013 at 9:42 PM

My family and I waited and waited for this movie and we were not disappointed. It was fun – which was the whole point. The Hobbit was written for children. It’s not “highbrow literature” – it’s a roller-coaster ride. A kind of fairy tale for an 11 year old. Yes, the rabbit sled was a bad idea and I honestly didn’t like the goblin battle sequence much but it was wonderful to revisit Middle Earth. The cartoonish feel – on purpose – it’s fantasy with a touch of whimsy. So far it has earned $949 million worldwide. I guess if you didn’t like it a bunch of other people did.

johnnybgood on February 4, 2013 at 1:42 AM

I’ve read the complete trilogy more than 40 times, and The Hobbit probably 15.

The trilogy trailers assured that I would never waste time or money seeing any of The Lord Of The Rings films.

This trailer assures that I will accord The Hobbit the same level of interest.

Siddhartha Vicious on February 3, 2013 at 3:18 PM

Wait… Are you saying that it is never a waste of time or money to see the LOTR films — i.e., no matter how many times you see them, it is time well-spent? Or are you saying that it would be a waste of your time and money to see the films — i.e., even seeing them once would be a waste of time and money?

I suspect you mean the latter, but I am not certain.

If so, while I respect your view, I disagree. (I think the movies are good, although obviously not as great as the books.) But I have only read the books a few times.

acasilaco on February 4, 2013 at 3:41 PM

I saw the movie. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out since it is the first of three, but I found I liked it. I could see where the storyline was changed, in particular the encounter with the trolls (though not the outcome), and the goblins, among perhaps other places, but the movie was entertaining just the same. I decided that I would gladly see the next movie. If it kept being as entertaining as the first then I would gladly see the last one.

I admit that I was kind of hoping to hear, “Is that it”? from somewhere in the audience. That happened at the end of first movie of the LOTR. No such luck. :)

Russ808 on February 4, 2013 at 4:13 PM

First act: Dwarves show up.
Second act: Fight orcs and trolls, chew countryside.
Third act: “Hey, look! I can see the dwarf city!”

CrustyB on February 5, 2013 at 9:58 AM