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Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

By Bob Garver

One should take my opinion of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” with a grain of salt because I’ve never much cared for the “Lord of the Rings” series. It is no secret that I consider the entire franchise to be nonsensical, confusing, and overlong with poor special effects. At the same time, I am aware of the massive popularity, both critically and commercially, of the previous films in of series. Clearly there are many fans that see something in these films that I do not. These same people may see the same things in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”. But I say that the new film is nonsensical, confusing, and overlong with poor special effects.

The film is the first of a trilogy that precedes the “Lord of the Rings” series. Young Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is chosen by great wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) to help a troop of Dwarves led by deposed prince Thorin (Richard Armitage) reclaim their lost kingdom from an evil dragon named Smaug. Gandalf introduces the Dwarves to Bilbo by inviting them to a dinner party at Bilbo’s house without telling him. The Dwarves are crude guests and Bilbo is understandably flustered by the ordeal. I’m not sure why Gandalf would think that imposing hosting duties on Bilbo would entice him to join the journey (as opposed to inviting him to a properly-planned dinner party to prove that he takes care of his friends), but inexplicably it works, and come morning Bilbo decides to leave his comfort zone and join the team.

Throughout the rest of the film, the Hobbit and the Dwarves encounter Orcs, Trolls, Elves, and Goblins. All these offensive words for short people are represented as distinct races. We get cameos from familiar “Lord of the Rings” characters like Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee). The story is told in flashback, so we also briefly see an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) and even a quick appearance by Frodo (Elijah Wood). But by far the best returning character is Gollum (Andy Serkis), who shows up for a creepy standoff with young Bilbo that results in the well-documented loss of His Precious.

The motion-capture effects on Gollum are well done, probably because Serkis is such an expert with the technology. I cannot say that the rest of the visual effects are handled so expertly. At no point does it look like the majority of creatures are anything other than bad CGI. The absolute worst characters, however, are the laughable rock monsters that endanger the heroes on a narrow mountain path. These creatures swipe at each other clumsily while the actors shield themselves from debris thrown at them from off-camera. Honestly, the film should never have bothered with the rock monsters, as they aren’t important to the story. I also could have done without the trolls, who do little more than behave grossly, and the goblins, who are about as interested in self-preservation as a slice of lemmings.

As “An Unexpected Journey” is the first chapter of a “Hobbit” trilogy, it depresses me to think that I’ll have to see two more of these lousy movies over the next two Christmases. I suppose I should be grateful that it’s only two more, since these movies make a ton of money and the powers-that-be would surely churn out more hopeless sequels if they could. To me, the film is as painful as all of the films in the “Lord of the Rings” series. But then again, I’m seemingly one of very few who consider the “Lord of the Rings” series to be painful. So I’m perfectly prepared for fans to once again tell me that I’m wrong. But if you loathe the film as much as I do, don’t say I didn’t warn you. 

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Its running time is 169 minutes.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.            

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”