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.