Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

Bilbo Baggins, a respectable hobbit with no experience when it comes to world beyond his home, is invited to join thirteen dwarves on their quest to reclaim their homeland. Of course, there's potentially a dragon to deal with first, but that's why they need Bilbo to be their burglar. Is he willing to trade the comforts of home for a rather uncomfortable adventure?

(Nota bene: this review relates to the extended edition of the movie. Though I’ve once seen the theatrical editions of the The Hobbit trilogy, the extended editions always have my preference, and I’ve seen them more times than I can count.)

Let’s start with the obvious caveat, one most people will probably agree with (some more fervently than others): The Hobbit trilogy is not of the same quality as The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The use of CGI is arguably too much, the writing and pacing are less on point and they gave Peter Jackson a little too much free rein to express his very niche sense of humour. These are just a few of the examples that prevent this trilogy from being the masterpiece The Lord of the Rings is. Still, I like this movies very much, maybe more than they deserve. As such, I rewatch them all each year, just as I do with the The Lord of the Rings.

An Unexpected Journey was very much an unexpected experience all those years ago. It’s hard to imagine now, but for years it seemed like there wouldn’t be any other movies (or let alone series) set in Middle-Earth. I was very grateful to get the opportunity to revisit this beloved universe, with familiar faces such as Sir Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett reprising their roles. Compared with the screenwriters’ representation of Tolkien’s themes, Howard Shore’s music and the stunning landscapes of New-Zealand made it feel like I was returning home after a long time away.

I shall admit I find it hard to gauge how much my enjoyment of these movies is determined by my nostalgia for The Lord of the Rings, or even the original source material itself. Would people like them better or worse if they weren’t in the shadow of these other media? I can’t say.

Something I can say, is that I very much like Martin Freeman’s portrayal of a younger Bilbo Baggins, a respectable hobbit drawn into a dangerous adventure he doesn’t quite understand. His (often subtle) facial expressions really give depth to a character that has to be able to be funny and endearing, as well as a protagonist with emotional depth.

However, the adaptation of Thorin Oakenshield (masterfully portrayed by Richard Armitage) is what probably resonated the most with me. The narrative of a banished king trying to reclaim his heritage with a small band of loyal warriors is in itself gripping enough. Yet, An Unexpected Journey introduces a Thorin with internal struggles that I feel don’t often get explored in media: the personal threat of a genetic mental disorder you might inherit. Though I (nor the DSM, probably) wouldn’t normally consider ‘dragon-sickness’ a mental disorder – it seems more like a magical influence or a higher susceptibility to greed/paranoia – the other characters treat it as such. This is the build-up of (potentially) great characterization. Is Thorin prone to the same ‘sickness’ that seems to run in his family? If so, does this undermine the leadership capabilities he clearly has? Can he give his people what they need by reclaiming their home and the dangerous wealth that lies there?

Though, as I already mentioned, there are some aspects of An Unexpected Journey I’m less fond of. At times, the humour can be jarring, in the form of anachronisms, inappropriate ‘final words’ and the interpretation of Radagast the Brown (though I love Sylvester McCoy). Furthermore, there are some adaptation choices I have ambivalent feelings about. For example, I like the inclusion of an antagonist to weave most of the random misadventures on the road together, but I don’t see why it couldn’t have been Bolg instead of Azog (something I will feel a lot stronger about when we arrive at The Battle of the Five Armies). Additionally, the added time pressure of the quest always seemed unnecessary to me, and only results in some awkward scenes throughout the trilogy.

All in all, it might be fair to say An Unexpected Journey is something of a hot mess, with a lot to say about it, both positive and negative. Frankly, his review is already longer than I thought it would get. To offer some final thoughts… If you’ve read the book, I feel this first movie most captures the whimsical adventurous feel of The Hobbit. It’s worth a try if you’re somehow unfamiliar with all the other movies and books, but want a taste that of Middle-Earth that is a little more accessible. Tolkien purists should give it a wide berth, though.

Also, this movie doesn’t feature enough Smaug. Luckily for me, that what the next movie is for.

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