– My very long review … (no really, very long)
Perhaps a little late to post this now, but better than never I guess! So here’s my review on the first installment of ‘The Hobbit’ Trilogy, written after copious amounts of repeat viewings and the span of a few months.
A word of warning: I haven’t divided this post into different parts, resulting in a rather lengthy review. I’ve added screen-caps in order to both reference the text, as well as to provide some “colour” and life to the thousands of words that follow…
And as always, some spoilers from the book will be present – but I have ‘blanked out’ the relevant phrases, so all you need to do to read the spoiler is to highlight it with your mouse.
Read on if you dare!
(**Note: AUJ means ‘An Unexpected Journey’**)
It needs to be stated very clearly that the main attraction and magical qualities of this first film lie in the ever-appreciating experience that is gained after each viewing. Indeed, this has not only been expressed by me but by many others, that each time one views ‘An Unexpected Journey’, there is always something new to learn and see, and every time the experience is more enjoyable than the last.
First things first. If you are an avid fan of the Rings Trilogy, the first installment of ‘The Hobbit’, will definitely draw you back into the much missed Middle-earth. Many returning characters and familiar locations bring back a strong sense of nostalgia mixed with delight at the prospect of reliving many of the moments in the original Trilogy. However, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ must be identified as a separate film – an introduction to Middle-earth to any of those who are not familiar with either the books or the previous films.
One of the things that makes AUJ so special are the many links and consistencies between it and what happens in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The filmmakers have managed to “bridge” the two stories and make them feel as if they are part and parcel of the same world and that the events in one will help shape the events in the other. Many of the things unfolding in ‘The Hobbit’ intrinsically lead into the timeline of the War of the Ring – not least the introduction of the One Ring. But for now, let us first focus on the film’s scene structure and discuss each one in detail.
Our first introduction and brief history to the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain and the arrival of Smaug is presented in extraordinary visual beauty. Typical of Jackson’s flashbacks, the scene sets up some of the major characters and events that will help shape the story of ‘The Hobbit’. Our glimpse of Dale, Erebor, Thorin and his family, and not least Smaug’s shadowy appearance set the tone and feel of this particular Middle-earth story. The music, suffice to say, feels strongly familiar and yet wholly distinct (as it should be). This is a younger, “less dangerous” Middle-earth and somehow, the rhythm and tone of the score seems to indicate something more than what is visually seen – a large background history to a realistic world.
Continuing along the lines of a pro-prologue sequence, seeing Bilbo and Frodo back at Bag-End is a beautiful way to tie in the beginning of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and the delicate intricacies of conjoining aspects resonating from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ films. Overall, it is also a great introduction to both Hobbit and Rings characters to any viewers who have had no prior knowledge of the books or films.
An Unexpected Party
To be honest, if this entire scene was extended to a two-hour movie, I would gladly have sat down and watched it from beginning to end. Many of the criticisms of this first installment stem from the length of this sequence and the tardiness of the start of the Quest. Indeed, along with the prologue and the party scene, the adventure does not begin until a full forty minutes into the film. However, being such a fan of the book, I was delighted by the amount of detail and accuracy of dialogue that was put into this scene.
The meeting between Bilbo and Gandalf is delightful. The “good morning” conversation (which I had secretly been anticipating), was played out in full, almost word for word from the pages of the book. The vibrant colours of the Shire in the background, contrasted with the two figures, helped to enhance such an important scene. Ian Mckellen, back in his splendid form, makes you unaware at first that you are smiling with delight at this character – until only after a few minutes into the scene have passed.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo is spot on. There is no question about it. The filmmakers have done an outstanding job in casting him for the role. He is perfect. His facial expressions, movements and voice, all project a suitable younger Bilbo for an equally superb Ian Holm.
The scene moves forward to the unexpected arrival of the Dwarves, interrupting Bilbo’s dinner and the beginnings of a party. This is when the real fun begins. Visually and artistically, each dwarf actor has brought something special to his own character and coupled with the interactions of Bilbo and Gandalf, all inside a much expanded and detailed Bag-End, spark the beginning of a magical moment in the first film of this trilogy.
The beautiful candle lighting inside the hobbit hole, together with the gorgeous clothing, accessory details, score and the actors’ actions, allow for the scene to unfold into a visual feast (pun intended) – making you feel as if you are being invited to the party and all you need to do is dive into the screen and join the happy throng! The technical skill required to bring three different physical statures of hobbits, dwarves and wizards together in one shot is impressive. The scene flows flawlessly and the actors, no matter what race they are, end up looking correctly towards those taller or shorter than themselves.
After Thorin’s welcome and the discussion around the table, implicating Bilbo as the burglar for this quest, the scene cuts to a flustered hobbit recovering his senses after an overwhelming ordeal. Sitting beside the fire within the much familiar Bag-End parlour from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, Gandalf instigates Bilbo to go on the adventure. Yet again, the lighting, accompanied by the slight howling wind outside gives it a feeling that is mostly associated with the winter season; that cosy, comfortable sensation felt during the first-time viewing of the film itself in the month of December.
Following this scene, the much anticipated ‘Misty Mountains’ song makes its appearance as all the dwarves gather around the fire and sing along. The beautiful melody resonates wonderfully with the Dwarvish culture and becomes the main theme for ‘The Hobbit’ and the Quest. As the song unfolds, we get a glimpse of each and every one of the dwarves’ faces – their own thoughts can only be guessed. However, it is clear from their expressions that they are longing for their home and their nostalgia of a lost kingdom – the slow track-in on Gloin’s face as it lights up to the glowing fire, the mesmerising shot of Dwalin seemingly lost in thought with a somewhat sad and yet hopeful expression on his face… Overall, a scene which will be a long-time favourite for many years to come.
The Adventure Begins
The scene soon shifts to a bewildered and sleepy Bilbo who wakes up wondering where all the dwarves have gotten to. Finding a clean, tidy and quiet Bag End, the hobbit hops around the rooms, hoping that the adventure won’t be needing him. However, as he spots the contract lying around together with the closed front door, Freeman’s perfect facial expressions come into play – instigating the notion that the hobbit is having second thoughts.
Howard Shore’s score flares up as the scene cuts to a very late Bilbo, racing through the beautiful country of the Shire, amidst bewildered hobbits, hoping to catch the Company’s early morning departure. Seeing further shots of an even more colourful Hobbiton has never looked so good. The chance of being able to witness more angles of this magical place is a true treat and to top it all off, Bilbo’s wonderful phrase “I’m going on an adventure!” completes the transition between the Baggins side unto the Tookish one.
Unfortunately, from this point onwards no more glimpses of the Shire are present as the film begins its adventure. This is perfectly fine for an audience accustomed to the location from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, however, seeing it from the perspective of a first-time viewer, there doesn’t seem to be a proper introduction to the Shire and its inhabitants, as hobbits in general. This issue was tackled in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and it feels as if the filmmakers, knowing that they had already introduced the place in the first trilogy, needn’t have delved into the same thing here. A slightly misguided solution to be honest (if that was the reason) and here’s hoping that with the Extended Edition, we will get more of a general introduction which is so relevant for anyone who is new to Middle-earth and will be seeing all six films in the correct chronological order.
As Bilbo reaches Thorin’s company and they set off on their adventure, we get a montage that is so synonymous with ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Wide landscape shots of a mesmerizing Middle-earth (aka New Zealand) crop up with the characters walking along, accompanied by the main theme of the film.
The Battle of Azanulbizar
Cleverly set-up as a flashback during one of the Company’s night rests, Balin instructs a mischievous Fili and Kili (who, somewhat annoyingly, aren’t introduced and explained as being Thorin’s nephews) and a bewildered Bilbo. As the dwarf’s voice-over accompanies the visuals, we are transported to the battlefield outside the West-gate of Moria. Thousands of dwarves and orcs fight to the death in a gritty and visually astounding battle. The blood and sweat and horror are topped off by the daunting physical presence of a massive Azog. An out-of-place beheading takes place as the (affectionately named) Pale Orc chops off Thror’s head – forcing a young Thorin to take the lead and conduct a spine-thingling charge against the winning orc forces. The showdown between Azog and Thorin (not to mention how he got his name of “Oakenshield”), is also wonderful and intense.
All in all the final battle of the War of the Dwarves and Orcs is well depicted, even the changes in the timeline (such as Thror’s beheading) did not affect my viewing much. However, both the lack of Dáin and the demise of Azog were highly disappointing; changes that could significantly affect the outcome and climax of the third film. I was looking forward to the introduction of Dáin Ironfoot, critically serving as essential exposure for his arrival at the Battle of the Five Armies; as well as the lack of a dying Azog (at the hands of Dáin himself) – thus resulting in Bolg’s revenge at the aforementioned battle.
This “slight” change significantly affects the storyline and the filmmakers will need to pay careful attention at how the narrative unfolds in the next two films – avoiding the possibility of it spinning out of control and losing the main focus of the story: which is after all, all about the hobbit himself.
The survival of Azog has been explained as a reason for him to purposely chase and hinder Thorin’s company and act his revenge – giving more of an incentive and a threat to the already dangerous adventure. While this seems like an acceptable proposition, Bolg could have likewise done the same task and although Azog is in himself a fascinating character (and one which, I admit, like seeing the scenes he is in), the voice of the book fan within me screams every time I see Azog surviving his “demise”.
Radagast the Brown
Out of the many anticipated characters that would make an appearance in these films, Radagast was certainly on the top list. Being one of the Istari, the Five Wizards sent to Middle-earth to help its inhabitants, I couldn’t wait to see the hermit-like being act alongside his peers: Gandalf and Saruman.
His introduction as an animal-loving wizard and a friend of beasts and birds was very fascinating and filled with humorous elements typical of a Peter Jackson-directed film. I’m glad that his appearance lived up to my expectation – even though his character is somewhat foolish. Nonetheless, it is that characteristic that distinguishes him from the other wizards. It wouldn’t have worked had we seen another wise Gandalf or another proud Saruman.
His dwelling in Rhosgobel was also a delight. I wish there was more of it featured as multiple DVD viewings were required to absorb all the small details and touches made to this quite cosy (though shabby) forest dwelling.
Using Radagast as a means to introduce us to the Dol Guldur sub-plot is also an interesting approach. This old, seemingly abandoned, fortress will play a pivotal role in developing the Necromancer theme and linking it with the approaching darkness that will loom over the entire length of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. Indeed, in ‘An Unexpected Journey’, we have already been given a glimpse of the dread and horror that was so synonymous with any of the Mordor-related scenes in Rings.
As the film progresses, Radagast visits Dol Guldur and is there attacked by one of the Nazgûl (presumably, the Witch-King of Angmar). Veterans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ cannot help but be mesmerized and delighted at the return of its major villain’s henchmen. This particular scene plays out beautifully in re-introducing us to the Ringwraiths (along with their infamous screams) and the initial physical re-transformation of the Dark Lord as the Necromancer – hiding in the shadows until he screams out at a terrified Radagast, sending him running away.
As chilling as it can be, Peter Jackson seems to promise us more of this subsidiary narrative in ‘The Hobbit’, expanding more in the next two films. The only downside of this particular scene would have to be the slight lack of realism in realizing both the Witch-King and the Necromancer.
Comparing it to the Weathertop sequence in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the Ringwraiths (above left) appear to be more realistic and indeed, “physically” filmed as actors in costumes (enhanced later with CGI to give that ghostly effect). In AUJ, however, it seems obvious that the Witch-King (above right) was created completely digitally and that lack of human movement and appearance slightly weakens the overall effect and impact of the scene. The same can be said of the Necromancer. Apart from the lack of realism, visually, it was slightly disappointing. Taking the form of a simple shadowy figure, the soon-to-be Dark Lord looks too alike a screaming face in the sand from ‘The Mummy’ films.
Considering who this character is, you would think the filmmakers would put more effort into realizing something more visually pleasing than what seems a “rough sketch” of a man – nonetheless, curiosity at how his appearance will evolve in the following films is still high.
A classic scene from the book and a favourite moment for many (me included) is the introduction of the three trolls and their encounter with Thorin’s company. The entire scene plays out fairly close to the books and the overall effect is enhanced by the realistically rendered Trolls. Their actions and dialogue evoke a strong, natural element and their comedic acts help to improve upon this fact.
The battle that ensues is nothing short of impressive. As the Dwarves charge out of the trees to save Bilbo, along with the full orchestral music of the film’s main theme, the action is breathtaking. Inhuman stunts, suspense and organized chaos all give something more than the same scene in the book – which unfolds rather slower. It takes multiple viewings to get the whole picture and analyze the details of what each of the characters is doing at that one instant.
One of the beautiful things about this scene is that, for continuity purposes in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ (mostly in the extended edition), once the Trolls are being petrified and turned to stone by the sun, they assume the exact same positions found in film one of the Rings trilogy. That little detail widens a viewer’s experience and allows anyone who sees that same scene sixty film-years later, to feel the sense of history and knowledge of that event.
The Trollshaw sequence delves also into the discovery of the famous blades: Glamdring, Orcrist and Sting. As Gandalf and Thorin explore the trolls’ cave, they acquire these beautiful blades, gleaming bright amidst the dirt and rust surrounding them. What follows is an exchange between the wizard and Bilbo, who receives his (as yet unnamed) sword, stating “I have never used a sword in my life”. In reply (accompanied by one of the many Shire themes in Rings), is a beautiful line by Gandalf which will resonate through one of the most important moments in the film, and right up till the climax of ‘The Return of the King’. “True courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one”. Simply breathtaking.
[Okay, time to take a break. Go and make yourself a cup of coffee or something and then come back to read the rest … Ready? Go!]
The Warg Chase
As the Company heads out of the cave, they meet a confused and hasty Radagast who comes to warn Gandalf about a decaying Mirkwood and his discovery at Dol Guldur. The odd thing here amongst fans of the books is the question: how did the wizard manage to cross over the Misty Mountains and in such a short time? However, for the general audience, this fact may not be of much concern – fair enough.
At this point, it is discovered that Orcs (later on revealed to be under the service of Azog), are hunting the Company and for them to escape safely across the plains, Radagast offers his help to draw them off – using his reliable rabbit-drawn sledge.
What follows is an amusing chase across the wild lands as Thorin’s company tries to avoid being noticed by the Orcs. The sequence itself creates some tension, but to many book fans (me included) it screams out that this was only created to add some action in between the scenes. Furthermore, many shots of Radagast on his sledge do not result in being very realistic. The use of greenscreen and digital models is evident to the trained-eye and strains the emotional bonds to the narrative and the world of Middle-earth to the limit.
Nonetheless, it has to be said that both Orcs and wargs look very real (compared to those in ‘The Two Towers’). Their presence and danger is realistically conveyed, posing a genuine threat to the escaping Company. The scene concludes with Gandalf discovering a secret way from which they can escape and the day is saved by a mysterious (yet familiar to ‘The Two Towers’) horn call as Elven cavalry sweep down upon the enemy, driving the Orcs away in fear.
As the Company ventures amidst the narrow-hanging rocks and crevices, they soon walk out to an open ridge, overlooking the beautiful valley of Rivendell. The same music used in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ (for exactly that same location) immediately draws you further into a believable world. Bilbo’s astonished look as he mutters the word “Rivendell” and the distant buildings gleaming in the sun’s rays, is a spectacular introduction to the place that many Rings fans have loved for over 11 years.
The magic continues as the camera glides upon the main entrance, showing our heroes crossing the bridge. The shot then pans down to the ground and slowly “walks” through the gate, all as one single take – making the audience feel as if they have arrived in Rivendell and are in awe of their surroundings, just as Bilbo is.
Distrust is evident on all of the Dwarves’ faces, further reinforcing that mysterious conflict in Tolkien’s works between both races. Nonetheless, it provides for a humorous approach and all the more when Gloin blurts out against a seemingly “threatening” insult from Elrond. Not only does it give a hint to the nature of a dwarf but also emphasizes the similar traits to be found between Gloin and his son Gimli in ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
The scene progresses to another humorous moment as the dwarves are faced with the Elves’ table manners and way of eating. Ori’s “Have they got any chips?” makes me laugh every time! This moment is also important in explaining the history of the blades found in the Troll cave and, later on, the discovery of the secret runes on Thror’s map.
A major downside of this particular sequence is the lack of Bilbo and the short time spent in Rivendell as a film. This being mainly the story about the hobbit, it was a surprise not to have seen more of our hero’s whereabouts – and thereby reinforcing the similarities with ‘The Fellowhsip of the Ring’. Most of the Rivendell sequence is instead taken up by a seven-minute scene involving the White Council.
The White Council
This event is an important moment that continues developing the impending threat of the Necromancer and the Dol Guldur subplot, whereby a congregation of powers in Middle-earth gathers together to explore these concerns. Thanks to this, we are introduced to two other well-known characters: Galadriel and Saruman.
I cannot express the joy in seeing all these important figures (not least, Saruman himself) into one scene. There is a strong sense of power, authority and force in the White Council sequence that even though it entails only a discussion between these characters over several minutes, it does not become boring. Each of them has his or her own motivations and distrusts. The scene flows flawlessly around different aspects of the mysterious Necromancer – with Gandalf coming under attack from all sides.
If one had to point out (from a book fan perspective) two negative points, they would entail: (1) the lack of other important characters that formed part of the White Council; (2) the bogus story of the Ringwraiths being imprisoned in tombs. Out of these two, the second one hurts us book fans the most. Whilst the first issue could allow for a more focused and less distracting conversation, the notion of the Nazgûl being entombed by Men simply does not hold within Tolkien canon. By raising this issue, the fear and trepidation of all the major characters throughout ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is almost brought to nothing since the idea given here is that these spirits could easily have been captured by mere mortals. One could argue in its favour and state that these were no common Men but Dúnedain of the North, far capable than lesser folk. Nonetheless, it still puts into question the powers of both Elves and Istari.
Other than that, the scene provides a good context and lays the foundations for the looming evil that will take over in the second trilogy and the main purpose of that narrative. The debate concludes once it is discovered that the Dwarves and Bilbo have secretly left Rivendell in the hope that they continue their Quest unhindered.
This is further inter-cut by a short dialogue between Galadriel and Gandalf, in which the wizard explains to the Elf-Queen his decision to send Bilbo on the adventure. From this, comes another beautiful line that will also reflect the narrative’s progression into the Rings trilogy. Soon after, we are once again given a beautiful montage of walking scenes amidst breathtaking scenery, all engulfed by the majesty and wonderful score of the main theme, as the Dwarves and Bilbo make their way towards the Misty Mountains.
Out of all the wonderfully executed scenes (both from the book and invented ones), this sequence does not provide the thrills and necessary elements to drive the story forward. Yet again, it seems like an overly-expanded scene for the sake of implementing a few action shots after the long White Council sequence. Although the giants themselves look impressive, there isn’t much going on in terms of adventure. It would have been better had the Company witnessed this thunder battle from afar and quickly found there perilous way inside the cave.
The scene heavily relies on loud noises and occasionally, disorientating visuals. Thankfully, what follows next, compensates for this issue. Once the Company finds itself within the cave, a wonderful piece of dialogue ensues between Bofur and a reluctant Bilbo. The dwarf urges the hobbit to stay along and assures him he is one of the Company. The conversation escalates by an unintentional insult from Bilbo’s part on the Dwarves not having a proper home; but as a peaceful and reassuring Bofur bids the hobbit farewell, he notices a gleam from Bilbo’s sword.
Peter Jackson has long left a mark on his brilliant executions of (what I call) ‘Moments of Realization’. The camera moves employed, the actors’ expressions and the music, all contribute to a spine-tingling moment within the narrative. This can be seen in many examples scattered through ‘The Lord of the Rings’, highlighting the director’s ability to change a situation upside down: from one mood to another.
In this case, we get a rising crescendo as the camera tracks-in both on the hobbit’s scabbard and Bilbo’s fearful face. The sudden calm turns into a rumbling storm as the gleam of the sword indicates that danger is round the corner (or in this case, underground). This moment closes the scene beautifully and shifts immediately to another intense and culminating set of sequences.
From the dark recesses of Moria in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, to the sickly-lit caverns of the goblins – visually striking and full of detail, this sequence is a treat to those seeking both action and theatrical performance. No other character boasts such ego and exudes a bad influence in Middle-earth than the Great Goblin.
In ‘An Unexpected Journey’, Peter Jackson has clearly opted to distinguish between the enigmatic categories of orcs and goblins – turning the latter into this disease-infested, disgusting-looking race. No wonder then, that their leader should have such physical qualities in multitude. Barry Humphries’ performance is top-notch, emitting a strong sense of narcissism, self-centeredness and black humour.
The Great Goblin’s sense of mockery towards Thorin and his lineage knows no bounds and continues to increase the suspense between the two opposing characters. Things suddenly take a turn for the worse at the discovery of Orcrist – the blade most feared by the goblins (along with Glamdring). As death is about to be dealt to the Dwarves, Gandalf makes an explosive appearance and comes to their rescue (… again).
In a sequence that shows a more magic-friendly wizard, the Company fights its way through hordes of goblins as it makes its escape from the Misty Mountains. The fighting is intense and long, however, through sheer creativity, the filmmakers manage to come up with witty and humorous ways of dealing with the evil denizens (which might not go down so well with some fans of the book).
Riddles in the Dark
Occasionally intercut with the Goblin-Town sequence is Bilbo’s own adventure within the caves of the Misty Mountains. It is here that the most pivotal and important scene in both Trilogies, takes place. The discovery of the One Ring and the confrontation between the hobbit and Gollum sets in motion the whole narrative and evolution of ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Whatever happens from now on will depend upon this one event.
Gollum’s crawl out of the shadows will bring a smile to any of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ veterans, as the pitiful creature provides yet another memorable performance. Add to that the blundering and hobbity actions of Freeman’s Bilbo and you have a scene that takes the form of a play – one in which you can just sit down and watch for hours on end as a narrative unfolds between the interactions of these two characters.
Riddles in the Dark is one of the most iconic chapters in the book, and Peter Jackson has managed to retain its status within the cinematic medium. It is indeed the highlight of ‘An Unexpected Journey’. Similar to many previous scenes, a lot of the dialogue has been retained and used in conjunction with the audio visual language: thus creating an atmospheric, and frequently chilling interplay between the two characters.
Peter Jackson’s creativity knows no limits and with the help of Andrew Lesnie’s exquisite cinematography, they craft a scene rich in camera angles that does not deter the viewer from a 15-minute long sequence between two characters in one location – rather, it allows for the appreciation of the power of Cinema in transferring pages from a book to another medium.
Needless to say, the nine-year difference since we last saw Gollum in ‘The Return of the King’, has made a huge impact on the capabilities of CGI and motion-capture. Although the creature has withstood the test of time in Rings, here we have a much more realistic (and human-like) rendition of the character. Andy Serkis manages to live up both to the expectations of fans, as well as the advancements in technology – giving the character his personality and weaving with it the elements of a much improved and refined animation system.
As the riddle game concludes itself with Bilbo (unfairly) winning the contest, we are given another ‘Moment of Realization’ – with Gollum having lost his Ring and coming to understand that the hobbit has stolen it. Apart from the clever use of the reflection in the water to bring out Sméagol’s split personality (a technique introduced in ‘The Return of the King’), the score reaches another crescendo as he turns round to face Bilbo. The camera tracks-in on an anguished Gollum, whose face slowly turns into hate. That facial transition, accompanied by all the rest drives the Riddles in the Dark narrative to a climax, bursting through the emotional perspective of the audience and making us fear for Bilbo’s life.
It is moments like these that defined the success of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and now provide ‘The Hobbit’ trilogy with enormous potential in reaching that same level of appreciation. There is always the hope that Peter Jackson may “redeem” himself from certain lacks and provide audiences with a much more satisfying viewing experience in the following two films.
The scene eventually overlaps with the escape of the Dwarves and Gandalf at the hands of the goblins. Bilbo, seeing that he cannot follow his companions, decides to put Gollum out of his misery and therefore be able to escape with the others. As he prepares to give the deadly blow, he is suddenly caught off guard as Gollum turns round – his face clearly distraught. So much is the realism of the CGI-generated face, that such emotions truly convey strong feelings, leaving any viewer somewhat sorry for the creature. This is further true once Gollum perceives the invisible Bilbo standing in front of him and his sudden transition into anger. It is at this moment that the hobbit performs the iconic leap and jumps over him – managing to escape out into the light.
A screaming and distraught Gollum, who now realizes what has just happened, curses Bilbo and vows vengeance upon him to retrieve the Ring – a crucial element once the story develops into ‘The Lord of the Rings’.
Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire
As Bilbo runs towards the rest of the Company, he overhears Thorin’s rebuttal against him, claiming that the hobbit has left them for good. We get a glimpse at a pensive Bilbo, realizing that whatever he decides to do at that moment (whether to shy away or reveal himself to the Company) will change the rest of his life.
Naturally, he chooses the latter and what follows is a beautiful speech made by Bilbo in response to Thorin’s question on why he came back to them. The simplistic nature of the hobbit is revealed and we are made to care all the more for him and for the rest of the Company – who learn to appreciate him for trying to help them. However, this moment is interrupted by the presence of Azog who has finally managed to overtake the Company. As wargs lash out to hunt them down, Gandalf and the rest clamber up trees to avoid being mauled to death. The scene quickly escalates to a terrifying ordeal, that finds the Company trapped on a pine tree surrounded by flames.
It has been stated many times that the process to involve Azog in this scene was a last minute decision and that many of the shots were filmed late during the post-production process – a matter of weeks before the premiere of the first film. Ironically, it contains one of the most emotional moments of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ – a showdown between a ruthless Azog and a distraught Thorin (who all this time had believed his nemesis to be dead, but has now come back to haunt him).
Bilbo watches in awe as a resolute Thorin climbs down the tree, charging towards the Pale Orc and his warg mount. The intensity of the scene and the music all make for a cry-fest for even the most hardcore viewers, as the dwarf King finds himself a step away from dying, crushed between the jaws of the huge warg. But the staunch dwarf manages to fight him off, until Azog is forced to drop him on the ground. A hopeful crescendo (typical of Shore’s Middle-earth scores) emerges as the hobbit stands up and goes to the aid of Thorin.
Once again, we are greeted by the main theme as Kili and Fili join the attack. In a beautiful moment of heroism, we are shown how Bilbo is evolving and embracing the thrills and dangers of the adventure. The climax continues with the rescue at the hands (or claws) of the eagles, leaving an angered Azog behind – that promises more harassment on his part in the next films.
Out of this intense scene, there are a few low downs that are to be expected in a book adaptation. My main disappointment was the lack of a Warg-meeting scene before the attack on the Company. Unfortunately, this proved to be too time-consuming and impossible to recreate due to the intrusion of the (unnecessary) Azog storyline in its midst. It can been seen, as was stated above, that the repercussions for keeping the character alive and introducing him as a threat within the Quest itself, continues to persist and affect the storyline of the book.
The filmmakers need to pay close attention in films two and three not to detract from the main narrative and delve into unnecessary scenes for the sake of supporting these non-canon issues.
Secondly, the use of the music prior to Thorin’s charge is the same musical composition used in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ during several Ringwraith scenes. Although some tracks from the original trilogy were used here and there in ‘An Unexpected Journey’ to give a sense of link, in this case as the music starts to play, a film-fan like me is immediately drawn out of the Hobbit story and is reminded of Rings. This jolt is enough to halt the rising tension and emotional feel that is evolving within the scene. Nonetheless, you are soon drawn back into the narrative once the charge commences (at least, that’s the way I see it).
Having said that, it still feels like the filmmakers, in their rush to finish the final few scenes, utilised this piece of score and just copied and pasted it underneath these new visuals. Hopefully, as we are introduced to the second and third films, no setbacks from any time-constraints will affect the finished product itself.
As the Eagles soar above the jaw-dropping landscape below, Howard Shore’s music continues to give the necessary depth and emotional drive to the audience – reflecting the current emotions of the characters on screen. Eventually, the Company is flown on top of the Carrock and Thorin, finally accepting Bilbo as a fellow member for his courage, looks beyond – witnessing the Lonely Mountain for the first time in years.
The final scene glides us through the Desolation of Smaug and inside the halls of Erebor – with the final shot of a huge pile of gold, underneath which the dragon Smaug’s head stirs awake.
A perfect ending to one stage of the journey and an introduction to what we can expect in film two.
The structure of ‘An Unexpected Journey’ is very close to that of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ – both in terms of the story and the events that occur. In both cases you have a group of travellers on a quest that is beset by dangers (Weathertop/ Trollshaws), until they reach a place of safety (Rivendell) – after which they continue on their journey. Both the Company and the Fellowship find themselves hard pressed in the Misty Mountains, until they are forced to go underground (Moria/Goblin-Town), only to re-emerge outside again.
Unfortunately however, apart from the timeline differences and resurrection (or lack) of characters, the main issue with ‘An Unexpected Journey’ seems to be the need for clear identification with the characters (mainly the dwarves). Apart from Thorin and Balin, not much exposition is given to the rest of the party. Not only that, but even their names (though admittedly hard to learn at first) weren’t clearly explained; nor, for that matter, were the relationships between each dwarf fleshed out.
Apart from knowing that Balin and Dwalin, and Fili and Kili were brothers, there is nowhere indicated that the latter dwarves are actually Thorin’s nephews (an important fact for the third film), or that the other sets of dwarves are brothers or cousins. Furthermore, for someone like myself, I am aware of each of the dwarves’ background history due to research and the reading of material relevant to the film. The general audience does not get this information from the film itself and thus lacks in good exposition.
I say this with a heavy heart and knowing that this could easily have been done, and undoubtedly the film would have been received much better by others who were not into Tolkien or the book itself. It is dearly hoped that all these relationships are expanded significantly in the second film and resolved in the third.
A note on technicalities: 3D and 48fps
One of the major concerns by most fans of ‘The Lord of the Rings’, was the emerging discrepancies between the Rings Trilogy format and that of the new Hobbit films. Apart from the 3D aspect, the most “damaging” of all was the introduction of the higher-frame rate – whereby even though anyone could view ‘The Hobbit’ in standard 24fps, nonetheless, it gave the impression that this new trilogy has drifted apart from its predecessor and the strong links that should have bound the two together, were severely damaged.
Unfortunately, 3D seems to be the newest trend and although I have nothing against it as a technical way to present a film, personally as a viewer, I cannot perceive the concept that three-dimensionality adds more to the story other than just visual “cut-outs”. Again, I myself cannot see beyond this and having seen a number of 3D films on a cinema screen, the effect of the visuals is evident but no “enhancements” are given to either the story or the performances of the actors. Ultimately, it all depends on the script.
This issue occurs with ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’, in which only a few shots have been designed to “come out of the screen” as it were and give that wow factor to the audience. Otherwise, it doesn’t really give anything to the story itself – the film is enjoyable purely because of the screenplay and the visuals themselves, rather than the 3D effect.
The higher frame rate was also an issue which I found difficult to overcome. I was one of those who immediately thought of the “soap-opera effect”, with the almost fast-forwarded actions of even the most subtle of movements. Then again, I did notice the clarity, the fluidity and the overall blending of CG effects with real tangible objects – there, the interaction between the two was flawless. Nonetheless, the 48fps placed me in an awkward position as I didn’t get accustomed to it within a few minutes (as many said you would). At certain moments in the visuals, I would suddenly find myself “thrown out” of the viewing experience as a sudden movement would prove “unfilm-like” and almost “cartoonish”.
Thus, during my first viewing of ‘The Hobbit’, I was constantly jumping in and out of the story, continuously made aware of the high frame rate – even though I tried very hard not to take notice of it. Thankfully, it didn’t detract much from the story and the emotion of the film itself. Indeed, as soon as I went to see a 2D 24fps version of the film I immediately realized how connected in felt to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy.
No doubt, however, that within a couple of months – when I’ll be sitting down at the theatre watching ‘The Desolation of Smaug’ – the feel of the high frame rate will not be as harsh or as odd as the first time.
As long as the story itself delivers what it should, I will find myself returning to the screens more than once and enjoy the experience of delving once more into Middle-earth …
It should also be noted that I am writing this review from my own perspective of a “book-firster” and “Rings films-firster”. What and how ‘An Unexpected Journey’ may be viewed by a complete first-timer will be discussed in each of the scene sections.
(All images belong to ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ 2012 – copyright to Warner Bros. and MGM studios; screen-caps of the film taken from http://www.Screencapped.net.)