A Fun Trip Back to Middle-Earth

With his return to the wondrous world of Middle-Earth created by J.R.R. Tolkien, Peter Jackson creates another visually powerful film, but be warned, it’s no classic on its own. The major problem, which is simply inevitable with a film like this, is that it feels like the set-up for something bigger, but then again, that’s because it is in fact the set-up for something much bigger. Never mind that the source material is already lighter than the Lord of the Rings trilogy since Jackson crafts the tone for this one perfectly, because what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey functions best as is a teaser for the rest of the action.

Jackson did the right thing by splitting the book into multiple films so he could capture almost every detail of Tolkien’s novel, so despite the fact that this film lacks the major pay-off for what it sets up, it’s another great adventure from one of the absolute best modern directors. The film follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a lowly hobbit who has never ventured far from his own home, but this changes when the great wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) approaches him and insists that Bilbo join him and thirteen dwarves led by Thoran Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an adventure to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. The city, once thriving, was taken long ago by the fearsome dragon named Smaug, who presided there and lies with the fortune of gold hidden away. On the quest, they encounter goblins, orcs, wargs, shape-shifters, sorcerers, and of course Gollum (Andy Serkis), who holds his precious ring in the depths of the goblin tunnels.

Even though there’s a lot more that happens in the story and the film really only offers set-up, it’s an essential part of that story. We haven’t gotten to the climax yet, but this chunk of the adventure is still thrilling on its own. Yes, it also lacks on its own, but if it’s a sign of what Jackson has in store for the second and third films (which it is), then we are in for a treat that will offer the pay-off this sets up and more.

With that being said, the film is still another technically brilliant one. The editing is precise and crisp and the visual effects are fantastic, even though Jackson often opts for CGI over makeup (unlike he did with Lord of the Rings). Not to mention, the cinematography by Andrew Lesnie is stunning and absorbs us into the amazing world Jackson has brought to life. The score by Howard Shore captures the essence of that from Lord of the Rings, but it’s still different and captivating enough to enhance the film as best as a score can.

Of course, it’s the direction that brings it all together and makes everything work as well as it does. These elements are essential for the thrilling result we get from the film, but what really makes it come together is the smooth pacing. Jackson is great at just about everything in the filmmaking process and pacing is no exception since he makes two-and-a-half hours fly by in what feels like no time. All in all, say what you will about the majority of the film being set-up, but there’s no denying that this is darn good set-up.

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