The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Review (Spoiler Free)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Poster

An Unexpected Journey is a worthy addition to the Middle Earth films, even if it hasn’t quite got the charm or power to raise it to the heights of the previous trilogy. Martin Freeman is excellent as our lead; he completely meets the high expectations that I held for him as our endearing and courageous hero, Bilbo Baggins. I can’t frankly think of anyone else that I would rather see in the role. The return of multiple familiar characters is particularly welcome; Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey being the most notable of these, but there are also quite a number of others from the previous trilogy who show their faces.

I wish that the goblins hadn’t been built by CGI; they suffered from the worst that technology can do in that they felt empty, fake, and uninteresting when compared to their human counterparts in the previous films. And whilst there are multiple small niggles that I had with the film, the biggest problem in my eyes is that I simply don’t care for the lead characters like I did for those within The Fellowship of the Ring. There is nothing particularly wrong about the characterisation of the different dwarves; I could tell them apart as best as the film’s material allowed me to, but I’ve come away not really remembering all of them that well, and those that I do remember haven’t endeared themselves to me. It’s a shame, it was always going to be difficult to make all thirteen dwarves memorable and easy to distinguish between, but I had hoped to care about a few key ones more than I currently do.

The film knows its audience is going to be almost exclusively fans of the previous trilogy and does pander to us. The film is lengthened by details that connect the two stories, and they are fun and interesting to see. Would the film benefit from streamlining itself and removing some of this baggage? Probably, and yet the decision has been made to connect them as much as possible, and having recognised that, I accepted it, sat back, and just enjoyed being thrust into the world of Middle Earth once again. Plus it’s a joy seeing familiar characters and settings, particularly so as we get to see them in a more carefree time.

The film does strike a strange balance between being adapted from a children’s book, and being an extension of the previous trilogy, but generally this works out alright. There are moments that do feel a little jarring, and fans of the previous films may be turned off by the different lens that this film adopts; this is a more slapstick, innocent, and simplistic Middle Earth than the one which we are used to. That view of Tolkien’s world is absolutely fine, after all to completely alter The Hobbit by making it grittier and darker would be to lose the soul of the book, and the film balances the two competing versions of Middle Earth well enough. Overall An Unexpected Journey is a good film which I had a lot of fun watching, it doesn’t reach the high level of characterisation, excitement and originality as those before it, and the CGI overload makes the film feel slightly hollow and uninspired. Make no mistake, this is a great adventure film and I’m looking forward to the next two instalments, but it hasn’t caused me to feel any great passion or involvement like The Fellowship of the Ring once did.

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22 comments

  1. Excellent review man.

    1. Cheers, have you seen it yet?

      1. No, but I plan on seeing it soon.

        1. Cool, I hope you write a review of it 🙂

  2. Nice review. I liked Martin Freeman in it, but the movie lagged for me. I especially agree with you on the CGI goblins.

    1. Thank you. It did lag a little for me too, although not to the degree that it seems to have done for a lot of reviewers. Yeah that was a totally unnecessary change, and I get that Jackson wants to push technology, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the film.

  3. At first I was worried. Three films and the first is almost 3 hours long?! Yikes! However, once it got going, I was hooked however. Great review!

    1. Thanks, it felt so good to be back in Middle Earth!

  4. (some spoilers)
    I really enjoyed the swashbuckling action sequences, such as the escape from the goblins’ lair, which I thought had a similar feel to the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, but like, if the Pirates sequels had been better – it was very over-the-top & silly, but stopped just short of feeling cartoony & thus not exciting.
    The fact that the goblin designs looked nothing like the goblin designs in LotR bothered me a lot, & the fact that they were CG only made that worse. The same goes for the orcs; my friend described them as lumpy grey potato men, & he’s right.
    But overall, I was very satisfied with An Unexpected Journey – it probably helped that I was pretty worried it might suck, so just by not being The Phantom Menace, it succeeded in my eyes. I liked seeing the familiar faces from LotR, & they didn’t feel like they were shoehorned in: it was very logical that Gandalf has his summit with Galadriel, Elrond & Saruman, & I really liked the Shire scenes with Frodo, the ones set at the beginning of Fellowship. It felt very…nostalgic almost, but sort of reverse nostalgic – we already know how dark the world of Middle Earth is going to become, & the beginning of LotR sort of becomes the end of The Hobbit – the last time we’ll see that sort of whimsical fairy-tale Hobbity stuff. I don’t know. It was very bittersweet. Also, great ending. & the music was so cool! I didn’t like all the singing in the LotR books, I was glad it wasn’t in the films, along with that Tom Bombadil shit, but here they included the songs & I ended up being really glad they had.

    1. I wasn’t such a fan of the action sequences I have to say; I guess the threat level wasn’t there, I never felt that they were in any real danger and so they didn’t really hold my attention all that well. I don’t even know that it was the silliness that weakened it for me, it may have just been the fact that I didn’t feel attached to the characters.
      Yeah the summit was pretty great, and the shire was as you say bittersweet – I actually enjoyed the film most when it revisited aspects of the original trilogy. I don’t want to be attacking this film because I did enjoy it, but it felt like all of the stand out scenes drew heavily from the LotR films.
      The songs were good!

  5. “I wish that the goblins hadn’t been built by CGI” AGREED. I rewatched the LotR trilogy this week, and the orcs/goblins there were Actors in makeup whenever possible. I thought that that was a very poor choice to not go that route again 😦

    As to not connecting to the dwarves, this is Bilbo’s story. It’s much more single character based that the LotR trilogy. MUCH more. the Dwarves were supporting characters for the most part in the novel as well… It’s a criticism that I’ve seen around quite a bit, I’ve just had to speak out… that’s… how it is, you know?

    “so just by not being The Phantom Menace, it succeeded in my eyes.” LOL

    I enjoyed it very much, I’m psyched for the next one!

    1. Yeah I re-watched Fellowship recently and its such a shame that they made that change toward more CGI.
      It’s true that its far more Bilbo’s story than anyone else’s, after all it’s called The Hobbit 😀 Still, that doesn’t mean that the side characters have to be uninteresting – and you know, I want to get involved with them. I hear you, but when it’s got to the point where I don’t really care all that much if they live or die, then I think its a fair point that they needed to be characterised better 😛
      Having said that, I’m also looking forward to the next one!

  6. I think you sum up my feelings for it well. Really good but not LOTR good.

    1. Cheers 🙂 I guess there’s a chance that the sequels may rise to a similar LotR level, I would like to think that there is anyway!

  7. Great review! I agree with you wholeheartedly. Hope you can check out my review on the movie, too: http://wonderwomanrises.blogspot.com/2012/12/movie-review-hobbit.html

    1. Thanks! Sure can, I’ll head over there now 🙂

  8. Thea Christie · · Reply

    Well said 🙂

    1. Thanks! 🙂

  9. Natalie P · · Reply

    It’s a shame about the goblins, I think you can definitely see Guillermo del Toro’s influence in those scenes.

    1. Yeah you certainly can see his influence, which is a shame. Not because I have anything against the guy, but the striking difference between them and the previous trilogy’s versions just pulls you out of the immaculately recreated Middle Earth. Everything else pretty much feels like we have plunged straight back into the familiar world from the LOTR films, and they therefore stick out significantly.

      I’m glad that you agree about the goblins, I know some people who thought they were fantastic!
      Thanks for commenting 🙂

  10. Great post, I’m looking forward to seeing the new one. Also, I recently watched the LOTR trilogy and reviewed them if you’re interested.

    1. Thank you! That does sound good, I’ll have to check that out at some point!

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