Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Three Reasons to Love ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

 It shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise that, yes, I really enjoyed the first film in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy. But rather than bore you with a long-winded and hyperbolic explanation as to why An Unexpected Journey is worth your cash this holiday season, here are three reasons why you geeks out there should see it in theaters, whether in 3D, 48 FPS or otherwise.

1)  Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo Baggins
Before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, I admittedly knew very little about the work of Martin Freeman, save for his starring role in the middling 2005 film adaptation of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now that I’ve seen him as Bilbo Baggins, I can’t picture anyone else playing the overly cautious son of Belladonna Took. He captures Bilbo’s polite outrage incredibly well at the beginning of the film as the dwarves invade his pantry, and his transformation to unlikely action hero during the film’s climax is pretty convincing (even if it is a bit abrupt). On top of all that, Freeman even looks at times like a young Ian Holm, who plays the older Bilbo in the Lord of the Rings films and the prologue to An Unexpected Journey.

2) The Riddle Game sequence lives up to expectations
The entire Lord of the Rings saga hinges on Bilbo’s discovery of The One Ring and the ensuing Riddle Game with its previous bearer, Gollum, so it’s only appropriate that the fifth chapter of The Hobbit is among Tolkienites’ favorite pieces of the lore. Fortunately, Peter Jackson is one such Tolkienite, and made Bilbo’s tense battle of wits as creepy in this film as we all imagined it would be. Kudos to the Weta Team (and returning actor Andy Serkis) for reminding us why Gollum is one of modern cinema’s finest digital creations.

3)  The Hobbit films are better Lord of the Rings prequels than the book
This isn’t a knock on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 novel, but the original children’s story was never really intended to be a prelude to the far more epic story that would be its sequel, The Lord of the Rings. In fact, the author went back and rewrote portions of the book’s fifth chapter “Riddles in the Dark” (which features the aforementioned Riddle Game), to better match up with the The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien allegedly intended at one point to rewrite The Hobbit entirely as a more serious story to supplement Bilbo’s more childish retelling of his Lonely Mountain adventure.

Since that never happened, Jackson was tasked with making The Hobbit “fit” with the mythology established in the previous films. As a result, many of the darker elements of the story are tied more directly to the imminent return of Sauron, and portions of Middle Earth’s history are culled from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings appendices and supplemental writings. Making the story feel “bigger” not only serves to connect The Hobbit with The Lord of the Rings (which benefits fans), but also allows the story to be spread over three films (which benefits the studios).

So, there you have it! If you disagree with any of the points made here, let me know on Twitter by following me @JamesWortman.