Movie review: ‘The Hobbit’s’ unexpected journey off to a halting start
The proper title of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 illustrated children’s book is “The Hobbit, or There and Back Again.” But in the first installment of Peter Jackson’s thunderously busy and intricately detailed new trilogy, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” so much time is spent laying groundwork and introducing multiple characters and plotlines that the motley pilgrims of the tale don’t even make it “there,” much less “back again.”
Comprising approximately the first six chapters of Tolkien’s 19-chapter tome, “An Unexpected Journey” clocks in a just under three hours. (Subsequent films, “The Desolation of Smaug” and “There and Back Again,” will complete the story.) And while this epic-sized opening sports all the large-tableaux spectacle and deeply textured, minute detail upon detail that distinguished Jackson’s vision in the three “Lord of the Rings” movies (thanks to his New Zealand-based team of production designers, art directors, costumers, makeup artists and CGI wizards), the film seems decidedly slow getting off the mark.
It opens in Middle-earth’s quaint Shire where we meet the slightly fuddy-duddy Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, low-keyed and likable), whose pastoral peace is interrupted in a grand appearance by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, wise and wily). Gandalf is there to recruit the reluctant Bilbo for a mysterious mission, and before he knows it Bilbo finds his tidy underground cottage overrun with 13 rowdy, roguish Dwarves (a comic sequence that drags on far too long).
Unable to resist the entreaties of Gandalf or the rough challenge of the Dwarves’ smoldering leader, Thoren Oakenshield (brusque Richard Armitage), Bilbo finds himself swept up in a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor and its massive heaps of gold from the fearsome dragon Smaug.
This begins the unexpected journey that will take the pilgrims into the Wild, through treacherous territories teeming with hideously disfigured Orcs and Goblins, snarling Wargs and humongous spiders, grizzled Sorcerers and a mysterious death figure known as the Necromancer.
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