In the Hobbit An Unexpected Journey we return to Peter Jackson's middle earth 9 years after the third instalment of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King swept the Academy Awards. The film brings us back to familiar territory of sweeping overhead shots of the troop as the march across the middle earth countryside to their destination. The familiar theme of the Shire - Home of the Hobbits and Ravendale home of he Elves ( middle earths equivalent of Switzerland ) are also present.
The film opens with the story of the Dwarf Kingdom Erbor and the images of the wealth and splendour. Until the dragon Smaug overruns the Mountain and takes over the Kingdom. The Dwarfs also have an epic battle with the Orcs which lead to the death of Thorin's father.
We next shift to the Shire and an elder Bilbo is working on his memoirs keeping them from a curios Frodo. The film shifts back 60 years to a young unassuming Bilbo who is visited by Gandolf and chosen to go on the journey with 13 dwarf's to reclaim the dwarf Kingdom.
The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey lacks the interesting set of characters that were the strength of Lord of the Rings. The script does not do enough to distinguish the individual dwarf personalities except for Thorin and veteran warrior Dwalin. One of the low points is a mismatch presentation of Radagast the Brown a wizard of middle earth that lives a solitary life with and specializes in animals. I expect that Radagast is cast this way to be a contrast to the the other wizards Saruman and Gandolf equipped with a lightning fast bunny sleigh and a C.G. hedgehog named Sebastian as a sidekick.
There are a couple of good passes sages in an exchange between the dwarfs and three Trolls and a third act battle with the Orcs. We also learn how Bilbo comes to inherit his sword which is later given to Frodo.
The highlight of the piece is the exchange between Bilbo and Gollum at an underwater lake in the Goblin Kingdom. Bilbo gains the ring and the two have an exchange of riddles in the underwater lair.The scene climaxes with a key moment that fulfils Gandlof's prediction at the outset of the journey.
I saw the 3D 48 Frames per second version. Despite the controversy the increased frame rate worked well the 3D presentation.
The film still has some influences of the original director Guillermo Del Toro who still maintains a writing credit. The stone giant passage is a Del Toro contribution and is eerily close to his upcoming film Pacific Rim.
At its heart this film is about a return to ones homeland. In one passage Bilbo states that the reason that he wants to leave is the reason that he stays. Bilbo loves his home and always wants to be there. He stays because the dwarfs are transiants and do not have a home and deserve one.
The other main arc is that the relationship between Bilbo and Thorin from the outset where Thorin has no use for Bilbo and cannot understand why he is on the journey at all to the change between the two characters by the end of the film.
We are off again in middle earth on the first part of a trilogy. Hopefully the next two films will do more to introduce more character development and punch.
Ian McKellen; Martin Freeman; Richard Armitage; Hugo Weaving; Cate Blanchett.
The Hobbit | Peter Jackson | U.S.A. New Zealand | 169 Min.
** 1/2 out of 4