a critiQal film review The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Plot: Bilbo Baggins (Freeman), a Hobbit, journeys to the Lonely Mountain accompanied by a group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure taken from them by the dragon Smaug.

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After years of rumors, the long-awaited introduction into Middle Earth, Bilbo Baggins journey into unknown realms and dangers, started hitting theaters last December, with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

While Tolkein’s introductory novel was given the animated treatment years ago (The Hobbit), it’s getting the Peter Jackson royal treatment this time around, with three full live-action films, a prequel of sorts to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).

After snatching this up from redbox® the other day, I couldn’t wait to sit down and see if Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins could outdo Elijah Wood’s poor excuse for Frodo…and if The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would leave viewers hanging in the middle of a scene, just as The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) did.

Martin Freeman, thankfully, is a welcome addition to this growing cast of memorable characters, and plays the part of a younger Bilbo Baggins to a T. Unlike Elijah Woods’ Frodo, Freeman’s Baggins is engaging right from the first sequence, and delight viewers almost instantly with his Nervous Nelly impersonation upon the unexpected arrival of a group of dwarves at his doorstep. As the film continues, he grows in nerve and stoutheartedness in such a natural way his actions never come across as out of character for the viewers.

One other new face introduces us a to a quirky new character whose also fun to watch on screen: Radagast, a wizard friend of Gandalf’s, played up by Sylvester McCoy. While he’s mainly there just to pass along a major plot point, his quirky charm will easily win over viewers.

The rest of the new faces – those of the dwarf pack that Bilbo accompanies on his journey – don’t do much to distinguish themselves from each other, at least so far, save for Thorin, played strongly by Richard Armitage.

Still, with a much more solid main character, the viewers are easily engaged in this first chapter in a way that was never possible with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001). This makes the return of familiar characters, from Ian McKellen’s Gandalf to Hugo Weaving’s Elrond to Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel, even more of a welcome sight for the viewers, as they are happy these characters have continued in what looks to be a much better trio of films.

Thankfully, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, unlike it’s predecessor The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), seems to be a more complete film, with a proper beginning, middle and end, while teasing glimpses throughout leave viewers salivating for the continuation of the story in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

Of course, any Lord of the Rings film can’t be mentioned – including this one – without including the majestic backdrop of New Zealand it’s set to. Magical all on it’s own, the scenery is breath-taking in each and every sequence, and, thanks to knowledge imparted from a Blu-Ray documentary featurette, viewers will discover that all of that scenery is rarely altered at all. It’s a stunning visual treat, and one the viewer could actually find if they were to go to differing areas in New Zealand.

With The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson has grown as a storyteller. While he was lauded for his epic previous Middle Earth trilogy, this first part of the new trilogy already beats out it’s predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), in almost every aspect. With Martin Freeman giving viewers a strong main character in his portrayal of a youthful Bilbo Baggins, a bevy of new characters that are either welcome additions (or will soon become so), teasing hints at a truly spectacular-looking foe coming soon, plot points that will have viewers intrigued, not to mention an actual beginning, middle AND end, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just the first part of a trilogy that looks to put the previous trilogy to shame on all fronts.

Now, let’s just hope the next part, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) can continue the strong introduction that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has given this new Middle Earth trilogy.

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