Movie Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

by JoHarrington

Peter Jackson is back with the first of a series of Lord of the Rings prequels. Will he be true to Tolkien or will we be Jar-Jarred by The Hobbit?

The return of Jackson's Middle Earth vision was one of the most widely anticipated movies of 2012. Globally, but especially in our house.

I own the original trilogy on extended box set DVDs, and I've read all of Tolkien's books. I even attended University with his great-grandson. Ok, the latter was nothing to do with me, but I am a fan.

Therefore it was with much glee that my nephew and I sat down in our theater chairs. We'd battled the elements to be there; and we were not disappointed.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on DVD

Disturbing the Peace of the Shire with Adventures

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is the very epitome of proper and pompous hobbit-hood.  He likes nothing better than pottering around his garden, enjoying a good meal and never letting anything disturb the peace.

Words like 'adventure' and 'exciting' are bad in his worldview.  Particularly so when the likes of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) turn up telling him that he should have an exciting adventure himself.

Bilbo promptly shuts Gandalf out of his house and gets on with rearranging his doilies.  But the business isn't over, as far as the grey wizard is concerned.

By evening meal, the first of thirteen dwarves has arrived and he's turning Bilbo's nice, tidy home upside down.  Stunned and outraged, Bilbo rushes around trying to keep order, as well as ordering out these chaotic elements in his life.  There's an unequivocal 'no', when the offer is made for him to go on a quest with them.

The dwarves, now joined by Gandalf himself, are planning to reclaim their homeland from the destruction wrought by a dragon.  They need a hobbit; and Gandalf thinks that hobbit should be Bilbo.

Thus the scene is set for an epic two and a half hours crossing Middle Earth to the very sight of the dwarven Lonely Mountain.  Along the way, Bilbo really will learn that there's more to life than knowing what to do with crocheted napkins.

Movie Trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

How Close to the Book was The Hobbit Movie?

I was actually stunned by how much of the original story was in the movie. 

Considering that a comparatively short children's novel was being sliced into three long films, I was expecting a lot of filler material.

There were changes, but they were fairly minor and did serve to create a smooth narrative, particularly for those unfamiliar with the books.  As for Tolkien fans, there were plenty of reasonably obscure references, which proved that the writers had read their source material.

I didn't leave the theater feeling like I'd watched something only based on The Hobbit.  I saw many of my favorite literary scenes played out before me; and insertion scenes, which beautifully followed the spirit of the book.

The Hobbit (Movie Tie-In) Book by JRR Tolkien

The Differences Between the Book and the Movie

I don't want to go into too much detail here, for fear of giving too much away for those who don't wish to have the story spoiled.

Most of the moments of disconnect between Tolkien and Jackson's visions come in the form of interpretation.

For example, Radagast the Brown is played with brilliant eccentricity by Sylvester McCoy.  He's portrayed as utterly zany and so close to nature that he has birds nesting in his hair. 

There's a comment later, which implies that the wizard is permanently tripping on magic mushrooms.  Though not said so blatantly as all that.

He's a fun character, who is bound to become a firm favorite with children.  I laughed at his antics, so the amusement is there for adults too.

He's not so well formed in Tolkien's tales.  The characterization could have gone in any direction.  This one was pure Jackson and (yes, I'll go there, considering Sylvester's acting history) the real McCoy.

Other interpretations are very literal.  For example, the stone giants actually form mountains; and those are very dangerous to pass.

Then there are moments when the movie does detour from the book narrative quite considerably. The scene where Gandalf throws his voice to distract mountain trolls is transformed into something else.  The change didn't make very much sense in the context of the movie; but it looked cinematically wonderful. 

Thus proving that Jackson did occasionally slip into style over content. 

But on the whole, the movie was fairly faithful to Tolkien's world.  Nothing too jarring, nor enough to have me up in arms about it anyway.

Trailer 2 for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I think that this is the best trailer of them all!

Did You Think that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was Faithful to the Book?

Please beware spoilers in your response. This is a review for individuals who haven't yet seen the movie.
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The Hobbit, or The Dwarves?

One major change was in the weight of the tale. While Bilbo was the protagonist, the story really was more about the dwarves.

When I think of The Hobbit, it's a charming tale written for children.  Tolkien's own children to be precise.  It's light and airy, where The Lord of the Rings was dark and complex.  It's the most enchanting of nursery stories.

But Peter Jackson had to marry this up with the trilogy that has already been released.  Fans of those films would want more of the same.

The compromise seems to have come in finding the darker points of The Hobbit and elevating them to the fore.  Then adding a lot of battle scenes, where previously there were none.  I really don't recall that amount of orcs being in the original tale.  Goblins, yes; but orcs swarming all over the place?  Same race, I know, but definitely there for continuity with the chronologically later movies.

Further dramatic tension is added in scenes like, for example, mountain trolls threatening to dismember Bilbo.  It looked good.  But I don't quite understand why the dwarves would endanger themselves, at this point in the narrative, to save him.

All of this re-balancing of the story served mostly to turn the attention onto the dwarves themselves.  We see it all through Bilbo's eyes, but the movie's tale doesn't appear to be as much about him as them.  They had the darker, less feel-good story to tell.

Epic Scenery and Moving Music

It pretty much goes without saying that the spectacle of this movie is brilliant.  The sweeping landscapes and the urban settlements are worth viewing, even if the story had been rubbish. 

I watched it at the theater in 3D.  I wouldn't recommend that.  The addition of various birds and butterflies, to make good on the 3D effect, was more jarring than great.  I've discussed this with friends who watched the 2D version, and they had no complaints at all.

The music will be very familiar from Howard Shore's score of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Mostly because much of it was reused!   There were occasional new orchestral pieces, but not a great deal.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey OST

However, the story's songs themselves received two compositions.  It was a great thrill to finally hear some of those poems put to music, like 'Misty Mountains'.  Top marks from me here.

The Hobbit Companion Pieces and Guides

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design is a sumptuous celebration of the creative vision of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Un...

View on Amazon

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey--The World of Hobbits

Enter the amazing World of Hobbits. Packed with photos from the new film, this book will tell you all you need to know about these amazing creatures – their appearance, appetite...

View on Amazon

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide

Enter Bilbo Baggins’ world through exclusive interviews with director Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and all the principal cast and filmmakers, who share film-makin...

View on Amazon

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion

Join the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the wizard and the Company of Dwarves on their Quest to recover treasure stolen by the Dragon, Smaug the Magnificent. Leaving the comfort...

View on Amazon

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Activity Book

Packed with stunning photos, facts, and activities from the brilliant new movie. Join Bilbo Baggins on his unexpected journey across the wilds of Middle-earth with Gandalf the w...

View on Amazon

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey--The Movie Storybook

Relive the story of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in this fantastic photo-filled book. Battling against Goblins, Wargs and other forces of evil, will Bilbo Baggins and the C...

View on Amazon

Image:  Cate Blanchett as the Goddess-like Galadriel.
Image: Cate Blanchett as the Goddess-like Galadriel.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Does NOT Pass the Bechdel Test

There is only one named female character. She only has conversations with and about male characters.

Peter Jackson's movie spectacularly manages to fail the Bechdel Test on every single count.

However, in Jackson's defense, he was working from a classic novel.  In Tolkien's The Hobbit, there are no female characters at all.  Hence the fact that Galadriel turns up is actually an insertion by the director.

Nor is it likely to be his last.  In March 2011, the Mary Sue reported that the latest trilogy is likely to include at least two more female characters.  While Primula Brandybuck does get a mention in Tolkien's wider work, she's not actually in this novel.  Nevertheless Fran Walsh will play her in one of the future movies.

The final female will be a wood elf played by Saorse Ronan.

Tolkien purists are not going to like these insertions at all.  But they wouldn't.  The question for those trying to evaluate the silver screen portrayal of female roles is will they actually count?

Galadriel is shown in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as the final word in just about everything. It's even implied that Gandalf and the dwarves have to seek her permission to go on their quest.  That's for no good reason that I could ascertain.

She's also telepathically wise in uncovering all potential deceit in her presence.  Though not the one that actually matters.  (The entire franchise would collapse, if Galadriel was consistent. She'd know about Sauron as soon as he entered Rivendell.)

Galadriel is strong, graceful, beautiful, womanhood in perfection.  She's Galadriel!  And in her wisdom, she will only trust men in her councils or on her quests.  What kind of role model is that precisely?

And that part where she was messing with Gandalf's hair, was that flirting with him or mothering him?  I really can't recall any of that in Tolkien's books.  But as Galadriel wasn't even there in this particular book, then I suppose that the floor was wide open with what to do with her.

Image:  Galadriel in a rare departure into hairdressing.
Image: Galadriel in a rare departure into hairdressing.
Three questions are asked of each movie. They are so simple that it would be harder to fail than pass. They examine the role of females in that film. Nearly half fail.

Lord of the Rings Galadriel Jewelry and Accessories

Ideal items for use in cosplaying Galadriel or adding a little elfin grace to your party outfit.
Updated: 03/19/2014, JoHarrington
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JoHarrington on 01/24/2013

You're welcome and I'm glad that you enjoyed both the movie and my review. I'm also looking forward to the next installment.

I did enjoy 'The Hobbit', but I didn't think that the 3D effects were worth sitting through the movie with the 3D specs on.

And welcome to Wizzley!

EliasZanetti on 01/24/2013

I watched it in 3D, i surely liked it, a lot actually. Still, it is probably a bit less impressive and engaging then that three 'Lord of the Rings' films. Nevertheless, I personally can't wait for the second part of the Hobbit! Thanks for the presentation, very elaborative!

JoHarrington on 01/10/2013

Oh wow! I so want to see a photograph of that when you do it. You'd look adorable!

I agree that you don't have to have read the book before seeing the movie. In some ways, that would even be better, as you wouldn't know what was coming up. It would be a whole new world to immerse yourself in.

I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed the film. Our gang did too.

humagaia on 01/10/2013

Saw the movie (in 3D - no alternative where I live) last week with my 8 year old grandson and daughter (his mum). We all enjoyed it immensely.
Having read The Hobbit 40 odd years ago I cannot determine what was original Hobbit and what is added extras, but from a cinematic point-of-view I don't think that matters. Many people viewing it will not have read the book beforehand anyway.
I agree with you that there are limited 3D effects to make it worthwhile to view in 3D, but I suppose 3D is the flavour of the month, so Heyho!
My family now want to plait my hair and incorporate it with my beard in a dwarf hairstyle (I actually have chest length hair and short beard with a long Fu Manchu style moustache now - unlike my avatar). I'm game!

JoHarrington on 01/07/2013

If you do go, then I recommend seeing it in 2D. There wasn't enough 3D to justify watching it in those glasses. It was a good film though.

There was a Runescape advert immediately before it too.

JoHarrington on 12/22/2012

Simon - Thank you. It is well worth going to see the movie. :)

Brandon - I'm right there with you. :D

lobobrandon on 12/22/2012

I saw the movie yesterday and it was amazing! Finally a good movie after a long time.

Simon on 12/22/2012

Very nice article! I like it and am looking forward to viewing the movie itself :)

JoHarrington on 12/18/2012

Thank you very much.

Guest on 12/18/2012

Very good article.

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