REVIEW: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012)

the hobbit poster

At the start of the year “The Hobbit” was easily one of my most anticipated films of 2012. But over time my excitement has been tempered by less than flattering reviews and some bad press centered around director Peter Jackson’s decision to stretch this limited material into three feature-length films. But at the end of the day there was no way I was going to miss this movie. I still consider “The Lord of the Rings” one of the greatest movie trilogies of all time so naturally a prequel would be right up my alley. But I was still cautious and maybe a bit skeptical going yet. Could Jackson recapture the magic of his first trip to Middle Earth or is this an example of going to the well one too many times? Well, while maybe not as polished as any of “The Lord of the Rings” films, this is still a wonderfully satisfying fantasy adventure that not only connects to the previous films but charts its own ground with great effectiveness.

First I have to say that I have never read J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredibly popular book. In fact, I am one who prefers seeing the movie first and then reading the book afterwards. So often fans of the books come out of movie adaptations feeling unfulfilled. On the other hand, if I read the book afterwards, it builds upon what I’ve seen on screen. That being said, I’ve heard from many people who have said this film does a good job of sticking close to the source material. That’s quite an accomplishment for Jackson and is something that will most certainly satisfy many more critical viewers.


From a motion picture perspective, I was pleasantly surprised at how the film grabbed me and pulled me back into the amazing visual world created in the first trilogy. Right off the bat you feel a beautiful sense of nostalgia as Jackson revisits some very familiar places. There are also many familiar faces such as Frodo (Elijah Wood), Gandolf (Ian McKellen), Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). The movie’s presentation is also very familiar and Jackson’s strong camerawork and amazing locations were strikingly similar to the earlier films and that’s a good thing. Even the story does a good job of connecting itself to the previous trilogy. We see holes filled in and things set in motion that play out within “The Lord of the Rings” films. All of this really worked for me.

But the movie also sets out on its own path, a path which makes it uniquely different from the earlier trilogy. I was concerned because perhaps my least favorite part of the original trilogy was the early part of the first film which takes place in the Shire. I was leery at the thought of this film containing even more of that. But that’s not the case at all. Bilbo Baggins’ adventure with Gandolf and a group of dwarves into the world outside of the shire begins quickly and the remainder of the film follows a formula that’s fairly similar to “The Fellowship of the Ring”. Yes, there is a lot of tablesetting as we are introduced to new characters and the quest is define. But all of that should be expected especially for a big epic-scaled adventure trilogy such as this. We are also introduced to a few new characters including a young Bilbo Baggins nicely played by Martin Freeman. This is his story although it isn’t until later into the film that it really feels like it. We are also introduced to the most intriguing character of the movie Thorin brilliantly played by Richard Armitage. Thorin Is the leader of the company of dwarves and is the heir to a sacred land that the dwarves hope to reclaim. He’s a brave leader who is crippled by some heavy emotional baggage. He’s a blast to watch.

But this leads me into some of the problems with the film. The dwarves are a focal point of the film but we hardly get to know any of them. There are 13 dwarves in all but honestly I can only remember a small handful of them. And I couldn’t tell you much about them and wouldn’t know them by name. They simply feel underdeveloped and some of them seem to be nothing more than tag-alongs. Another issue I had with the film has to do with the quality of its heavy doses of CGI. There are some scenes that are simply breathtaking and will remind you of the great special effects work from “The Lord of the Rings”. But there are other times when the visuals look so transparently computer-animated. That’s usually not a big deal to me but here it seems so blatantly obvious in more places than I would have expected.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I also have a couple of issues with the film that deals more closely to the script. For some reason, Jackson incorporates several scenes featuring bathroom humor that’s not the least bit funny. He throws in burps, snot, bird poop, and posterior gags that aren’t vulgar but they feel cheap and terribly out of place. It’s a strange direction for Jackson to go in and it doesn’t work well at all. This story also lacks the sense of peril that the first films had. Now I don’t want to fall into the trap of going to far in comparing this trilogy to the original trilogy. This is its own film and this trilogy should be judged on its own merits. But one of the things that made “The Lord of the Rings” so enthralling was the scale of the threat that hung over the entire series. In this movie the threat feels more personal and therefore not as significant. In other words, the stakes don’t feel as high which kept it from having the real sense of importance and urgency.

But I don’t want to leave the impression that I feel this is a bad or even mediocre movie. Quite the opposite, this is an exciting and intense fantasy adventure that had me from its opening moments. Even more impressive is the fact that it’s two-hour and 45 minute running time flew by for me. I was never bored. I was never checking my watch. It excited me. It thrilled me. It also had me remembering how much fun Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth really is. It has its obvious stumbles, stumbles that keep it from being as great as it could have been. But I am all on board with this series and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in the next chapter. Some may be critical of Jackson, but for me he’s done so many things right with this material that I can easily give him the benefit of the doubt.


29 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012)

    • I agree 100%. I think this movie is getting a bit of unfair press. I found it to be quite fun. In fact, I wanted to give it even higher ratings but felt this was justified. Still I plan on seeing it again before it leaves the theaters. It’s that good.

  1. YES! Thank you. You brought up several things that I also liked/disliked about the film. Still excellent though.

    And I am one who ALSO reads the book AFTER seeing the movie for the EXACT same reasons that you stated. ha! Great minds think alike. 🙂

  2. Got to say, I thought the CGI was sublime from start to finish with the 48fps version. Maybe it didn’t translate as well in standard definition? Agreed on the dwarves though – way too many to care about. Totally with you on the 4/5 verdict.

    • My issue with the CGI wasn’t just appearance but also motion. It just seemed a little rushed. And I keep using the word polished. These effects range from simply breathtaking to a little cartoonish. But you make a great point about the 48fps. I’ve heard mixed opinions on that but it was the way Jackson intended the movie to be viewed. I’m anxious to see it that way too.

  3. There was a lot of scenes where I thought things looked distinctly video game-y. The opening scene with the destruction of Erebor by Smaug – some of that just didn’t look real. Obviously, it’s not real, but nothing like say … what they did for Return of the King.

    PJ’s definitely done more right in this film, it’s a strong film. Visually and in the story, though perhaps could do with a bit of a script scrub down in some parts!

  4. Great review! Glad you enjoyed it too. I did catch a few CG things, but nothing distracting–especially with the exceptional work done on Gollum, Rock Giants, etc.

    Having read the book, I can say that the silliness (dwarf humor) is directly from the novel. It was written before LOTR and was a children’s fantasy tale. The tone was very lighthearted, with only “danger” in certain situations. Jackson is a huge Tolkien lover and I am sure he wanted to stay true to that spirit.

    What he did add was the ominous foreshadowing for future evil–that is all Jackson–in what I feel is his attempt to make it a cohesive 6 part adventure. In the novel there is (obviously) no reference to Frodo or any evil coming around the bend.

    And yes! I can not wait to see it again. It is a lovely addition to the Middle Earth universe.

    Happy Holidays! 🙂

    • Happy holidays to you too. Its a really good movie. I just hope I can see it again before it leaves theaters. But it’s such a busy time of the year and there are several good looking movies right around the corner.

  5. Yeah, Keith, you nailed it I think. Its certainly not a perfect film… I see different stumbling blocks than you, but we’d both agree that theyre there… But at the end of the day, its a huge, super well done, very exciting fantasy adventure movie. You cant do much better than that. I thought it was excellent!

    • You know, there was one point in the movie where I remember thinking to myself “this is an absolute blast”. But at the end of the day there were a few too many glaring flaws. But they didn’t stop me from having a wonderful time and I’m ready for the next one already.

  6. I actually saw this on advanced screening before the reviews came in and I really enjoyed it. Just saw it for a second time this afternoon and loved it even more. I don’t care what the critics say, I hardly agree with them anyway. I don’t know what movie doesn’t have ‘flaws’ but I thought the journey was a blast and I really care about the characters, so that’s a plus in my book.

  7. I greatly enjoyed this film, though not as much as any of the LOTR trilogy. Regarding the lack of development of the characters of the dwarfs, I actually found it to be an improvement over the book. In the novel, I really couldn’t tell any apart other than by their names (which were given due to a rhyming scheme). At least in the film they had distinct visual features and Thorin felt much more heroic that his literary counterpart.

    • You’re first sentence nailed my thoughts exactly. It’s really been interesting to hear the comments from those who have read the book. It’s actually been a compliment to what Jackson has done here. I think the real question lies in how the other two films stretch out.

  8. Pingback: THE TOP 10 FILMS OF 2012 |

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