So there I sat, a happy little hobbit waiting for a film I'd always wanted to see, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey though the reality is this isn't an unexpected review!
*Warning the following review has minor rants and contains spoilers*
The film starts well with Ian Holm reprising his role as the original Bilbo Baggins alongside Elijah Wood playing Frodo in what is a nice little prologue piece linking the movie to the past Lord of the Rings trilogy via Bilbo's memoirs.
Then more back story follows regarding the Dwarven kingdoms of Erebor before Gandalf presents himself at Bag End and invites the new Bilbo (Martin Freeman) 'On an adventure'. So far, so good and it gets better when the dwarves 'come-a-knockin' at the shy hobbit's round door. The atmosphere is infectious, the dwarves are brimming with character and a couple of songs add to the proceedings and light heartedness. Peter Jackson's script writers have also injected some humour in there which works well and has the audience laughing along.
Bone of contention #1
I'm surprised that despite his eye for detail Jackson fails to explain how Gandalf and Thorin have actually met, to omit something like that didn't sit well with me. They both actually meet at the Prancing Pony in Bree before the main story begins and travel together to the Shire, both discovering mutual goals. It would have been so easy for Jackson to have inserted a brief scene of them meeting in Bree to explain things but no, you're left to work that one out for yourself.
Proceedings move swiftly on to the dwarven mission and off we trot seemingly with little deliberation for Bilbo except for a few moments of silence when he gazes around his empty hobbit hole but this is only a small gripe on my part.
Bilbo soon sets off and we are out of the Shire, which leaves me wondering why Jackson rebuilt the entire Hobbiton village again, because we see little of it, if at all, unless we see more in a future film.
So, onto the road we go, some more back story on Thorin from the excellent Ken Stott who plays the aged dwarven veteran 'Balin'. We were promised more of Middle Earth and I felt Jackson could have done a CGI Bree in the distance for a fleeting scene before the party enter the Lonelands. Suddenly its into the Trollshaws and the Trolls.
Bone of contention #2
Balin mentions more of the back story of Thorin and the battle of Azanulbizar in which Thorin was wounded after fighting Azog (allegedly) but gains his name from using an oak branch as a shield. The film distorts this beyond belief. Page 1410, Appendix A, states that Thorin was wounded in the battle along with Thrain and there's a footnote to Thorin getting his name from the oaken branch but that's as far as it goes for Thorin in the battle, he's only a young dwarf then after all. Azog the orc is actually slain in this battle by a young Dain Ironfoot after Azog slays Nain his father. Dain despite his young years slays Azog and beheads him, he's shaken by it all but goes onto greater things, but the battle is won even though the dwarven loses are grievous (Return of the King, page 1411 appendix A). Despite all this in the movie Azog is alive and well and hungry for more despite having had his head hewn off and thrust on a stake in the book. So the stage is now set in the movie for Azog to be Thorins nemesis and for a purist like me its unforgivable. It will be interesting to see how they portray Billy Connelly who plays Dain in a later film but any credit of him killing Azog has been stolen from him by the meddling Jackson.
Moving on, we meet the wizard Radagast the Brown who is played very adeptly by Sylvester McCoy and isn't as irritating as earlier reports suggested, however...
Bone of contention #3
How does Radagast move so quickly from Rhosgobel in Mirkwood over the Misty Mountains and bump into the company? Its a good old trek and bumping into the company by chance? I think not, there's fate and good luck but come on! I'm not against Radagast's appearance in the film but in the books he barely gets a line or two and the movie embellishes his role above and beyond its need.
So the trolls dealt with we have Azog in hot pursuit and suddenly the terrain changes from woodland to barren hills in the blink of an eye, the company descend into the safety of Rivendell and we get more story distortions on the council of the wise meeting etc, though it seems to work ok.
Thorin isn't a happy dwarf and heads off as he's working against the clock mission wise. So off the party head again and set about traversing the Misty Mountains. Not a wise move but the interlude where the giants enter is vastly over emphasised and adds nothing to the movie, its not a bone of contention I just didn't see the point in mountains moving and theatrics. The party take shelter, Bilbo isn't happy and then the goblins capture all but Bilbo.
Andy Serkis returns as Gollum, steals the show again and the riddle scene is faithfully recreated. The we get Gandalf returning to rescue the dwarves and like the mountain scene an overstated scene of escape in which rickety wooden platforms and rope bridges look more like a Keystone cops caper than able dwarves escaping, it doesn't feel right at all, though Barry Humpries works well as the Goblin king and there's some chuckles in there.
Bilbo having unwittingly discovered the one ring realises that it makes him invisible and makes his escape from the now maniacal Gollum and rejoins the dwarves. Though...
Bone of contention #4
Bilbo having gave Gollum the slip actually escapes from goblins and rejoins the dwarves, The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark pages 85-86 but this is a minor moan really.
So on escaping Azog once again gives pursuit to our unlucky band having had a seemingly easier journey thus far. The dwarves get trapped up trees just like in the book but...
Bone of contention #5
Azog and Thorin bump heads and get it on and Bilbo joins in the battle with the rest of the dwarves before they are all rescued by the eagles. They do get rescued by the eagles in the book but the skirmish never actually occurs and of course Azog shouldn't even be there!
So, that really concludes the film and I guess if you're reading this that I didn't really enjoy it. On the contrary I did but I can't abide Jacksons meddling when it isn't necessary at all, the book provides plenty of material and so do later appendices and references. On a more positive note, when the closing credits came down my friend Dominic turned to me and said 'It feels like we've never been away'. He was right, it didn't, the one good thing despite new technological innovations is Middle Earth still feels familiar and that's a boon for the viewer and casual Tolkien fan. New Zealand does capture the feel of Middle Earth well but I can't help musing what if some bits had actually been filmed here in England, it would have been nice.
Despite the bending of the original story the film works well enough, the actors hold the film up well, Ian McKellen being especially excellent as a returning Gandalf. Freeman is a revelation as Bilbo and fits the role fantastically and the actors playing the dwarves are all very commendable too, though some get more lines than others, of course this may change. I really liked Ken Stott playing the elder Dwarf Balin. The film is a little protracted but I never really felt bored as the pace moves along fairly well with the odd pause, Rivendell being the main one.
In all honesty it felt good to be back in Middle Earth, I suspect greater things will come (well I hope so) in later films and the characters will grow even more. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn't an epic but its not shabby either, Peter Jackson has taken many liberties with it and some of it works and for purists like me some is just downright wrong. I can't judge a whole trilogy on one film but it isn't a bad start all said and done but its nothing earth shattering either.
I can't help wondering what another director would do with it all but I guess that will never happen in my time. If I had to rate it out of 10, then I'd give it a solid 7 but I can't help feeling a little disenchanted by Jacksons meddling. I'll go see it again in 48 frames per second I suspect. The soundtrack is also noteworthy and like the LoTR's trilogy compliments things well.
So, to end with, not a bad movie experience by any means, I'd recommend it and I'd see it again but I think it'll be better to judge it as a trilogy than a one off film at the end of the day.