After years of inquiries from fans after his enormous success with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson has rewarded Tolkienites around the world with his new project, the movie adaptation of the beloved book The Hobbit. With the choice to make the short novel a three-part film, fans are rewarded with countless tie-ins and references to other Tolkein writings, along with a relatively faithful retelling of Bilbo’s unexpected journey across Middle Earth, 60 years before Frodo goes there and back again to Mordor.
The first part of The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, begins just before the events in The Fellowship of the Ring, with Ian Holm playing Bilbo as he did in The Lord of the Rings. The movie is told from an older Bilbo’s perspective, who is preparing for his 111th birthday and writing the memoir of his great adventure. He launches into the story of the great dwarven kingdom of Erebor, which was once prosperous and wealthy from mining into the Lonely Mountain. One day, the dwarves are forced from their home by the dragon Smaug, who is attracted to the huge gold hoard of the King Under the Mountain, Thror. The surviving dwarves are homeless, wandering Middle Earth until Thorin (portrayed by Richard Armitage), Thror’s grandson, unites a company of twelve dwarves to reclaim their home.
From this point, we are thrust into the world of a much younger Bilbo, played by Martin Freeman. He is convinced by the wizard Gandalf (played once again by Ian McKellan, who was Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) to accompany the dwarves on their quest as “the burglar,” despite his stubborn refusal to leave the Shire. During the film, the company is pursued by the feared orc king Azog, who has a personal vendetta against Thorin for a past defeat. The unusual band must find their way across Middle Earth while avoiding trolls, goblins, Gollum (played by Andy Serkis), and the growing presence of a mysterious dark wizard who is connected to Mordor. The film ends with a cliffhanger, with the fate of the dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf hanging in the balance and the Lonely Mountain looming far off in the distance.
To fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the movie will be an action-packed romp through the familiar world of Frodo, with many nods to the more avid followers of Tolkein’s world. For people unfamiliar with Middle Earth, the film may be rather confusing because of the vast cast of characters and grand arc between Bilbo’s and Frodo’s quests. An Unexpected Journey, especially since it is the first of a grand trilogy, includes a lot of exposition that is slow at times. It is also very long, clocking in at almost three hours, so it is not for moviegoers who have small bladders. Despite its flaws, it is an exciting beginning to what is sure to be another classic Jackson trilogy. The next film, The Desolation of Smaug, is scheduled to be released in 2013, and the third, There and Back Again, is scheduled to be released in 2014.