‘An Unexpected Journey’ is the first installment in the Hobbit trilogy and marks New Zealand director Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth after almost a decade. I enormously adored the Lord of the Rings film series, though, I couldn’t understand much of the plot, then. I loved it even more after reading the book and getting the hang of the whole story a few years later. Jackson’s on-screen production of Tolkien’s ‘Middle-Earth’ was awe-inspiring, to say the least. Needless to say, I waited for this film pretty enthusiastically and had a lot of expectations… and apprehensions. I am delighted to report that I am extremely satisfied and relieved after watching it.
I must admit I was fraught by uncertainty when someone told me that Jackson plans to adapt a 300 page children’s novel into a full-blown trilogy. I mean, how is that even possible? From where will he find enough plot material for that?
Well, answer to that question is simple enough and you probably guessed it: Jackson has added a few plot elements of his own and from one of Tolkien’s posthumous works (Unfinished Tales). And thankfully, they blend so wonderfully to the original story-line that it appears as if they were always there. They never seem superfluous.
For those who are unacquainted with the story: ‘The Hobbit’, as the title describes, is a tale of a hobbit (Hobbit is one of the humanoid races in Tolkien’s fantasy world, Middle-Earth. They are characterized by short heights, floppy ears and hairy legs with tough leathery soles) – Bilbo Baggins- a peace-loving, unambitious fellow who would like nothing other than comfort of his subterranean abode, cigar and books. One fine morning, he is greeted by a tall, long-bearded wizard named – you know him- Gandalf who asks him to come on an adventurous quest with 13 dwarves who are looking to reclaim their lost kingdom and treasure from a ferocious dragon, Smaug, who had devoured most of their kin other than usurping their homeland. That is all you need to know about the plot before watching the film.
The story is told in flashback. The opening sequence is about Bilbo making preparations for his 111th birthday with his considerably younger cousin and main character of the Lord of the Rings, Frodo. As he mulls over his past, the scene is shifted to his 60 years younger self; he is smoking on a bright morning when suddenly Gandalf arrives and proffers Bilbo an adventure as described above. But Bilbo, who has no liking for adventures and calls them “nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things which make you late for dinner”, refuses it outrightly. Gandalf, however, leaves him no choice in the matter and Bilbo is later greeted by a bunch of dwarves along with Gandalf who make a mess of Bilbo’s clean, cosy home. They eat everything in sight without permission and sing constantly and clamorously. The first hour of the film is spent in Bilbo handling his unanticipated noisy guests and Gandalf introducing Bilbo to the dwarves along with their leader, a legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Thorin is absolutely dismissive and arrogant with Bilbo and even after Gandalf’s persuasions doesn’t think Bilbo will be of much use in their quest. Gandalf, though, is completely convinced of Bilbo’s abilities – particularly related to burglary and furtiveness. Gandalf thinks Bilbo possesses skills which are unknown even to Bilbo. As you will see, he is proved correct afterwards.While I don’t agree with it totally, I really liked this line by Gandalf, who, while referring to Bilbo’s stay-at-home wont, says:
The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there!
Bilbo, after a bit of reluctance, joins the company on an epic journey involving parlous and not-so-parlous encounters with Orcs, Wargs, Elves and Trolls. Martin Freeman was very compelling as Bilbo. The first time I saw him, a thought immediately came to my mind: “THIS is Bilbo Baggins! There couldn’t be anyone else in his place, surely.” He has done a real good job in adapting Bilbo’s perplexity on the big screen. Bilbo, while alone with Gandalf, asks him if he can guarantee that Bilbo will come back from the adventure to which Gandalf replies:
No. And if you do, you will not be the same.
Bilbo gradually discovers his skills which were concealed to him hitherto. After being treated imperiously again and again by Thorin, Bilbo bursts out this line which is one of my favourites in the film:
I know you doubt me, I know you always have, and you’re right. I often think of Bag End. I miss my books, and my arm chair, and my garden. See, that’s where I belong. That’s home, and that’s why I came… ’cause you don’t have one.. a home. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can.
Ian McKellen was as usual splendid as Gandalf. His gruff voice and authoritative presence makes him perfectly suitable for the role. Richard Armitage, too, as Thorin Oakenshield, has done an impressively good job in reproducing Thorin’s haughty and disdainful visage on-screen. Other actors have done a reasonably good work, too. Gorgeous Cate Blanchett makes a brief appearance as Galadriel.
Andy Serkis was once again exemplary as Gollum, portraying him through Motion Capture technology. The sequence involving Gollum, including the riddle game between him and Bilbo, was wonderful to watch and was one of my favourite moments in the film. Like with other aspects of the film, Gollum’s rendering was very good and much improved from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Visual effects in the film are simply marvellous and action set-pieces magnificent. It has been about a decade gap in ‘The Return of the King’ (conclusion to the Lord of the Rings trilogy) and the initiation of the Hobbit trilogy. And it shows. Graphics are far more realistic, the colours are more vivid and the rendering of Trolls and other CGI figures is near perfect
One of the best parts in the film is its soundtrack, which is quite outstanding, to put it simply. Nobody, and I repeat, NOBODY does it better than Howard Shore! Every note of the OST exudes adventure. Shore didn’t try anything ambitious, he just went with the basics. And it works. It really works. The film’s background score epitomises the popular belief that the score of a film is as important to it as the story.
The pacing of the film is just about right while not compromising on the original script. The film is much darker than the book which was primarily children’ s literature. Action sequences are quite intense and realistic. Younger children might find it a little bit violent. Though, I must say it has something for everyone. It was really nice to see that the film is really funny at times with Bilbo and the dwarves (other than Thorin who is anything but funny) being the comic relief. This is one of those few films which are nearly without flaws. It is a must must watch for any fantasy lover and anyone who liked the Lord of the Rings trilogy (who didn’t?). I am sure most people would disagree but ‘The Unexpected Journey’ is, in my honest opinion, the best film of the year so far and also the best Middle-Earth adaptation ever. I just can’t wait for the second film.