Flatiron Hot! Critic: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit, has captured the imaginations of young readers for decades. Therefore, in typical Hollywood fashion, the novel has been adapted for the big screen in three separate parts. The first installment of the series, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was directed by the famous Peter Jackson (with a screenplay co-written by Guillermo del Toro), who garnered worldwide acclaim for his film adaptions of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.

But were Jackson’s tweaks to the story line enough to draw disdain for his theatrical incarnations from Tolkien’s legions of fans? Or will they be waiting with baited breath for its sequel? Read on, filthy hobbitses.

As expected of Jackson’s Middle-earth, the landscapes and set displays are breathtaking. The rolling hills and grasslands inspire a sense of grandeur and epic adventure, especially in Imax. The beautiful and elegant architecture of Rivendell, Lord Elrond’s (Hugo Weaving) Elven domain, instills the viewer with a sense of peaceful tranquility.

Jackson’s signature climactic blares and swells of orchestral music are carefully placed to evoke a wide array of emotions that help to immerse you in a fantastical world of hobbits, dwarfs, and dragons.

Aesthetics aside, An Unexpected Journey is not without faults. The overarching story line will be all too familiar to fans of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. The narrative revolves around a defeated and shamed Dwarven King, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who, along with his “fellowship” of dwarfs, hobbits, and the famous wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan), sets out on a quest to regain his Kingdom from an evil and formidable foe. In a handful of scenes, some viewers may recall scenes from Jackson’s previous trilogy and notice key similarities.

Whether the similarities went unnoticed by the director and his editors, or were accomplished by design, it is familiar enough to cause an “I’ve seen this before” moment.

However, the complex characterization and acting make up for the stale story. Gollum (Andy Serkis) makes an appearance. to the delight of the trilogy faithful. There are also cameo appearances by characters from Tolkien’s Silmarillion, including Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch), and the Pale Orc, to keep the die-hard fans sated–for now.

Disappointing or not, one thing is clear; Jackson knows his way around Middle-Earth and will take viewers on a journey that will leave them anticipating its upcoming sequels, Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again, set to be released in the next two years. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey runs 2 hours and 49 minutes and is rated PG-13. You can catch it just a short walk away at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas, and other theaters.

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