The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
2012
**½
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Graham McTavish, Manu Bennett, Barry Humphries, Sylvester McCoy, Lee Pace, Benedict Cumberbatch, Andy Serkis

Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy transformed J.R.R. Tolkien’s three volume novel into a brilliant film series. The news that Jackson was to turn The Hobbit, Tolkien’s short and simple children’s book, into yet another epic trilogy (by including parts of Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings Appendices) smelled like a business decision rather than an artistic one, and this bloated first part sadly confirms my prejudices. The story is set in Middle-earth 60 years earlier. The young Bilbo Baggins reluctantly joins Gandalf and a company of Dwarves who want to reclaim their stolen gold from Smaug the Dragon. During the first third of their adventure, which runs nearly three hours, they have dangerous encounters with Trolls. Goblins, Orcs, Wargs and Stone Giants, and Bilbo meets Gollum and the Ring for the first time. There’s even time for a seemingly pointless stopover in Rivendell to meet old familiar faces, Lady Galadriel, Lord Elrond and Saruman. Jackson’s wonderful visual imagination is still on display, but now he seems too occupied with the spectacle at the expense of the story. This is a somewhat mechanical action adventure which struggles to find a satisfactory balance between the dark fantasy and the slapstick comedy. It also doesn’t help that the stakes are low. Frodo’s quest was about saving the world, Bilbo’s quest is about repossessing property. Bilbo and Gandalf are familiar, well-drawn character and Thorin Oakenshield is a compelling new one, but the other twelve Dwarves are interchangeable. Followed by The Desolation of Smaug and The Battle of the Five Armies.