The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey is an exuberant, colourful, vital film bursting with energy, humour and excellent storytelling. JRR Tolkien’s book permeates the film, from maps of Middle Earth to out of the frying-pan into the fire - the title of the sixth chapter of The Hobbit - being cried as characters run for their lives.
The film explores visually some of the tales that are referred to in the book, starting with a story explaining the background to the arrival of Smaug the dragon and the consequent exodus of dwarves from their lands. This narrative helps set the context for much of the rest of the film, enabling viewers to understand the motivation of the dwarves under Thorin Oakenshield’s command.
The aim of the travellers in The Hobbit is to restore dwarfish fortunes and lands by entering Smaug’s lair on The Lonely Mountain. The company assembled to do this includes Thorin and his dwarves, Gandalf the wizard and a reluctant, home-loving hobbit – Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo’s introduction to the dwarves and his fight between whether or not to take up the challenge of the journey is beautifully portrayed in the film. Martin Freeman – the actor who plays Bilbo – has a natural sense of both comic timing and understatement, perfect for the unsuspecting hobbit as his home is invaded by uninvited guests.
I found myself enchanted by many aspects of the film. Highlights include:
• The dwarves’ rendition of Over the Misty Mountains Cold once they have been well fed and watered at Bilbo’s hobbit hole. The song has depth, magic and mystery in it, evoking times lost and anticipating adventures yet to come.
• Bilbo’s ingenuity in dealing with huge trolls who view most living things as potential food – these scenes beautifully combine potential tragedy and humour.
• Elven Elrond, surrounded by mountains and water, reading Thorin’s map by moonlight.
• Bilbo’s meeting with Gollum and the riddle fest that ensues.
• The ending – returning to the lair of the dragon who sits on mountains of gold, providing a glimpse of stories yet to come.
The first in a trilogy of films, The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey is directed by Peter Jackson, who also directed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are similarities including actors (playing earlier incarnations of themselves), location (filming took advantage of New Zealand’s majestic, sweeping scenery), musical themes (some startlingly similar to those in The Lord of the Rings) and huge battle scenes. Jackson’s deep involvement in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings allows continuity and resonance to shine through Tolkien’s epic stories on the silver screen.
I would recommend the film to anyone. I would also suggest, should you get the chance, that you read or reread the book The Hobbit before seeing the film.