Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Inside a holographic sleeve, in a plastic case, there lived a Blu-ray. This was a Blu-ray of a film called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Many people were very excited about The Hobbit. This is because, for them, Tolkein adaptations had become a part of Christmas time, more so than turkey or overpriced confectionery. And lo, in the run up to the festive period (and the release of the next film) The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey found it’s way onto Blu-Ray. This reviewer found himself back in Middle-Earth afresh, having not seen the film at the cinema.
The first thing that strikes you is the length and pacing of the movie. Its cinematic release has already been described as overlong and the extra twelve minutes added here do nothing to quell that feeling. We do get a very nice song from the Goblin king and some more character beats that will no doubt please the hardcore following, but will probably alienate those looking for a well paced film.
The introduction of the Dwarfs goes on far too long and there’s too many laboured exposition scenes. But for every fault, there’s a gem of storytelling. The flashback to Smaug’s attack is wonderfully visceral and the way the Dwarfs are shown having to abandon their home is a textbook example of how visuals (and a little voiceover) can economically tell a story. Andy Serkis as Gollum makes an impressive return, his cave located riddling with Bilbo being a high point. Martin Freeman is the prefect fit for Bilbo, capturing the fustiness and small-time mentality that defines the character. At least, it did define him, ’till Gandalf came along and attempted to ignite the spirit of adventure in him.
Speaking of Gandalf, the movie is slightly over-reliant on cutting to close ups of Ian Mckellen, looking all twinkle-eyed and mischievous. But when you get actors that comfortable in their roles the temptation is to play to it. Admittedly, it’s also nostalgic and fun to watch Mckellen, Blanchett and Weaving inhabit their pillars of Middle-Earth, but it’s also fun to see Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, the wonky wizard of the woods adding a sprinkling of eccentricity to the proceedings.
The movie does a nice line in mild-peril with a slight edge, giving us just enough danger to fear for Bilbo & Co without shifting the tone too far into darkness. Occasionally the light tone feels a bit too frivolous (especially when the Dwarves get an extended bit of mischief making) but Jackson always pulls things back into line.
The main selling point for the Blu-ray release is the bountiful amount of extras. Everything from set design to production problems crops up. The songs of Middle-Earth are explored in greater detail and you get an in-depth commentary from Peter Jackson and writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens. And of course, there is more behind-the-scenes info on the gorgeous outdoor location work that has become a hallmark of the series.
To sum up
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the ideal film for yuletide. Just like the holiday itself it feels a tad bloated and over-indulgent. Yet only the most mean-spirited would ignore it’s charms.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.