‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’: Bilbo Baggins of bag end and jazz

Bilbo Baggins was going on an adventure. I was coming home.
Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of three movies chronicling J. R. R. Tolkien’s prequel to the Lord of the Rings saga, isn’t a perfect adaptation, (although neither were his LOTR films,). What matters to me isn’t the movie. I want the world-building. I want to be in Middle Earth. And as the film opened to the lilting notes of Howard Shore’s ‘The Shire,’ I shed a little tear, because here was home.
Jackson opens An Unexpected Journey in much the same way as Fellowship of the Ring; nearing his eleventy-seventh birthday, an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) places finishing touches on the narrative that will become The Hobbit. We learn of the Lonely Mountain, where a large, fierce dragon called Smaug guards inconceivable wealth that once belonged to the greedy dwarf king, Thror. Then the film launches into its main narrative; the quiet, well-appointed life of a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is thrown into whirlwind when Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellan) arrives to persuade him to join Thror’s grandson, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and 12 other dwarves on a quest to retrieve the golden hoard and to oust Smaug.
While at first understandably reluctant to travel so far from the comfort of the Shire, Bilbo joins the band as they fight trolls, wargs, and sentient mountains, all while evading Azog the Defiler, the Pale Orc, and his nasty compatriots, who gives An Unexpected Journey a suitable antagonist.
I’ve said that An Unexpected Journey isn’t a perfect film. The CGI has that odd glowing quality, as if it’s trying to make itself look more real, when in fact it looks like it’s right out of a bad tourism advertisement. There is the drawn-out conflict between of the tough-as-nails Thorin and the unhappy camper, Bilbo Baggins, (do not worry, they learn to tolerate each other through mutual life-saving, and even become bros). And there is a bizarre, questionably romantic moment of cheek-stroking between Gandalf and Galadriel (Cate Blanchette) while the company rests at Rivendell, which will surely lead to a smattering of bad fanfiction. Eurgh.
What is easily the most wonderful aspect of the film, is, surprisingly, the music. Many viewers don’t know (not having read the books; please do) that The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring are filled will poetry, song, and dance. Inhabitants of Middle Earth sing about everything, and there is no lack of chants and odes about drinking, and, er, eating. The film is replete with the happy lightness of flutes, dwarf chants sung low low low, and the heartbeat-matching tha-thump of drums. Music is the most seamless aspect of the world Jackson constructed.
The famous riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) passes without much fanfare. Gollum is oddly charming, and, dare I say it, cute, in his babbling determination to win the riddle-banter and eat Bilbo. The audience was chortling gently at Gollum’s antics, but I couldn’t laugh. Behind the jokes, behind the darling oddity that is Gollum, is Smeagol, a being that was a Hobbit at some point. This cute riddle scene, is so gut-wrenching because the Smeagol in Gollum so desperately wants to play a game. All he wants is a riddle or two. He needs to feel at home again.
Martin Freeman, is Bilbo Baggins. He’s got a sort of Hobbity look about him, compounded by the odd aura he gives off, a mixture between a love for good food and drink, Dolores Umbridge’s need for order, and Queen Victoria’s utter lack of amusement. Freeman adopts that slightly stilted, extremely specific speech and movement some personalities acquire under the duress of change, and it’s perfect and charming and wonderfully amusing.
Go see it, if you love Tolkien. It’s isn’t a great movie, and probably not one that will even get recognition for effects or cinematography. Peter Jackson will have trouble stretching The Hobbit into a trilogy; there can’t be enough information in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings appendices to fill a third three-hour movie. (Just film The Silmarillion instead.) But Jackson’s vision of Tolkien’s world remains thoroughly enjoyable, for me, at least, and I know I’ll be taking my youngest brother to see it. I’ve been there, and I will go back again.
~Sophie Byvik, editor-in-chief
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