“I have… I have never used a sword in my life,” says Bilbo Baggins to Gandalf the Grey. Gandalf responds, “And I hope you never have to. But if you do, remember this: true courage is about knowing not when to take a life, but when to spare one.”
I was relatively new to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien when I first saw The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring almost 13 years ago. I had never seen a fantasy film quite like it before. I eventually saw each film of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy more than once on the big screen, and I eagerly awaited the cinematic adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit (which takes place 60 years before The Lord of the Rings). I was even more excited when Guillermo Del Toro had signed on to co-write and direct The Hobbit (which would be a two-part film). Due to MGM’s financial problems, Del Toro left the project, and Jackson soon took over as director. A few months before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it was announced that the two-part adaptation of The Hobbit would turn into a trilogy. I got a chance to see Jackson’s first installment of The Hobbit trilogy at a midnight screening in 3D the night before its release two years ago. I had reasonable expectations for how it might turn out, and fortunately I enjoyed the film very much.
2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows a young hobbit named Bilbo Baggins as he is recruited by the wizard Gandalf the Gray into a band of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield in their quest to reclaim their mountain kingdom from a very dangerous dragon named Smaug. The primary focus of the screenplay by Jackson, Del Toro, Fran Walsh, and Philippa Boyens is Bilbo’s arc from his reluctance to join the quest to his questioning whether or not he should continue on with them or return home after several hardships. There is also a subplot focusing on Gandalf’s investigation into whether or not the dark lord Sauron is making his return. The other goings-on in Middle Earth are an interesting addition to the new Hobbit films; Tolkien’s novel had focused on Bilbo’s adventures with the dwarves while the other events were mentioned in the appendices at the end of the novel The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (filling in background information on what the other characters were doing during the time period The Hobbit takes place).
Martin Freeman is excellent as the young Bilbo Baggins, bringing warmth and conviction to the role. He leads a terrific cast that includes Ian McKellan (as Gandalf), Richard Armitage (as Thorin), Graham McTavish (as Dwalin), Ben Stott (as Balin), Aidan Turner (as Kili), Dean O’Gorman (as Fili), Mark Hadlow (as Dori), Jed Brophy (as Nori), Adam Brown (as Ori), John Callen (as Oin), Peter Hambleton (as Gloin), William Kircher (as Bifur), James Nesbitt (as Bofur), Stephen Hunter (as Bombur), Sylvester McCoy (as Radagast the Brown), Manu Bennett (as Azog the Defiler), Barry Humphries (as the Great Goblin), Lee Pace (as Thranduil), and Benedict Cumberbatch (as the Necromancer). There are cameos from actors and actresses reprising their roles from The Lord of the Rings trilogy: Cate Blanchett (as Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (as Elrond), Christopher Lee (as Saruman), Andy Serkis (as Gollum), Ian Holm (as the older Bilbo Baggins), and Elijah Wood (as Frodo Baggins).
Jackson’s direction is top-notch once again, as is Andrew Lesnie’s beautiful cinematography and Dan Hennah’s Oscar-nominated production design (seeing Hobbiton again was such a delight). The Oscar-nominated makeup design by Peter King, Rick Findlater, and Tami Lane was superb, as were the costume designs by Richard Taylor, Bob Buck, and Ann Maskrey. Weta’s Oscar-nominated special effects deliver the goods (especially in the well-executed action sequences). Howard Shore delivers another fine score, briefly revisiting his hobbit motif while introducing a noble, brass-dominated theme for Thorin and the dwarves. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a terrific first part in The Hobbit trilogy and a fine addition to The Lord of the Rings franchise. It’s adventurous, humorous, dramatic, contains some foreshadowing to later events in The Lord of the Rings, and is a fun journey overall!