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Down the Hobbit Hole

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY review

hobbitThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first film in Peter Jackson’s latest trilogy, adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel. Fans from the book and Jackson’s previous project, The Lord of the Rings, have been waiting for this installation for nearly a decade now. Luckily, it meets the high standards of the diehards, but not without a few drawbacks.

Bilbo Baggins is not an adventurer, burglar, or warrior. As a hobbit of the Shire, his greatest feats include keeping a fine hobbit hole and being an upstanding inhabitant of Hobbiton. However, when a wizard comes knocking at his door with a company of dwarves in tow, Bilbo is swept up in an epic tale involving a dragon and a mountain full of gold. Led by the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield, the new fellowship sets out to retake the city of Erebor from the wrath of Smaug.

A new enemy not from Tolkien’s imagination emerges in a blood-feud with leader Thorin. Azog, the Pale Orc, takes on the role of the dreaded Goblin King as the chief antagonist along the dwarves trail. Along with his pack of orcs atop wargs, Azog completely wipes out the original story’s inclusion of a goblin army hunting the dwarves. Jackson’s decision may not be true to the book, but it helps to create a connection to the other films (for an audience used to orc battles), along with giving this first chapter an identifiable enemy.

While the first alteration will leave novel-fans mumbling, Jackson enhanced a minor storyline to fill the three-hour long film. In the book, beloved wizard Gandalf is often leaving the dwarves and reappearing chapters later with no reason as to his disappearance beyond vague references to a situation with the a shadowy character. While this battle is not important to Bilbo and the dwarves’ adventure, it is necessary to the Lord of the Rings as it shows the beginnings of what plagues Frodo in later years. Only beginning in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the wizard’s issues will eventually hit its own spell-slinging climax.

Other than the minor changes to the storyline, The Hobbit is as good as it can be. Martin Freeman as Bilbo continues to prove that the casting agents for Peter Jackson are experts. Freeman is not only a natural hobbit, opposed to excitement and surprise visitors, but he also seems to have taken on Ian Holm’s mannerisms as the older Bilbo. Alongside the hobbit is Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. With a seemingly effortless portrayal of a deserving dwarf prince, Armitage owns the loyalty of the thirteen “man” company. His strange resemblance to Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings is unexpected as he fears the shortcomings of his forefather’s, yet the subtlety of this similarity helps blend the epics together.

Aside from the lead characters comes the company of twelve other dwarves. Unlike other races, the lack of dwarves in The Lord of the Rings left their culture less developed than the elves and men. In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the dwarves are redeemed. Their city of Erebor beneath the Lonely Mountain is a majestic mining nation comprised of geometric shapes and precious metals of all kinds. Even their costumes reflect their stations in the society: the king wears a crown of gold, his attendants outfitted in ebony and mithril armor, while common soldiers wear steel. The dwarven weapons are distinctly their own as they are made of hard edges and squared off hilts. Thanks to Weta Workshop, the makers of everything from sets to bigatures in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, the dwarves are brought to life.

Weta also aided Peter Jackson in the cinematography and special effects. In the host country of New Zealand, the production team creates a real environment for the trek across Middle Earth. Sweeping wide-shots across mountain ranges and grassy tundra leave the audience in awe of the country. Of course it is the inhabitants of Middle Earth that are unique. The technology of graphing an image to a living person was developed by Weta during The Lord of the Rings trilogy continues in The Hobbit as trolls and the twisted Gollum look more real than ever. When viewed in 3D, the film audience feels as though they are looking through a hobbit door into the world of Middle Earth.

Jackson perfected The Hobbit down to the last detail, not even leaving the score to chance. Another subtle blending of the films, themes from The Lord of the Rings make a second appearance during thrilling scenes in this latest installment. An opening in the Shire includes the memorable Fellowship of the Ring theme, later succeeded by reprises of the elven chorus and the chanting from Khazad-dum. Of course, as the other films included their own themes, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is given one as well. “Misty Mountains” is the song originally written by Tolkien that tells of the desolation of Smaug; in this medium it comes to life through the baritone vocals of Richard Armitage. First heard during the unexpected party at Bag End, the theme is reworked throughout the film, coming to powerful climaxes at the height of battles.

This December has treated Tolkien fans to an early Christmas present. Years of obstacles and uncertainty have paid off in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. With only a few changes, some for the better, fans can rush to the theatre in peace knowing the classic work is in more than capable hands.

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