An Unexpected Trilogy
“And he never forgave. And he never forgot.”
Gold, dragonfire, and an entire city turned to ash. These are some of the main mantras of this 48 frames per second stone giant filled adventure. From the director of every nerd’s fantasy (including mine) The Lord of the Rings trilogy, comes the first installment of another three movies covering the prequel to the original story of the one ring, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Fans for years have adored the Lord of the Rings films and the preceding books. But there was never a movie about the Hobbit. Well you are in luck dwarves elves and orcs because now there will be three!
Coming straight from the book itself, director Peter Jackson uses 21st century film technology as well as a roster of talented actors and actresses to dive into this first prequel movie. The film begins with the tale of how the Dwarves of Erebor were kicked out of their homeland by the ruthless dragon Smaug. This montage is narrated by Ian Holm, who plays old and weathered Bilbo Baggins, who has a perfect grandpa like fantastical storytellers voice. This forward is a good way to open the film, as it quickly gives the audience a background on what they are watching, and it is very interesting and done quickly. This forward largely draws up one of the main protagonists, leader of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. As it leads up to the point where Thorin is ready to avenge his people and the anticipation of what he might do is built, the screen goes blank, and the tension is cut by a warm sounding
“And that, my dear Frodo, is where I come in.”
Then, the soothing flute swooning the theme of the lush, green, cozy Shire comes in, and every viewer feels like they just nestled up into pajamas in front of the fire with a good book and a pipe (or the human equivalent of that). Bilbo converses with young Frodo, reunites with Gandalf the Grey, and blows smoke rings in his garden which transitions into the beginning of the main story.
As the smoke ring floats up into the perfect blue sky, the film title projects as the comfortable orchestral music climaxes in the most anticipatory way. The words fade and the smoke ring turns into a smoke butterfly, charmed by an unseen Gandalf. The camera pans back to a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), and the words 60 Years Earlier pop up. From this point on, the main story has begun. An unexpecting Bilbo is about to be thrust into a flurry of uncomfortable situations, messy kitchens, rude houseguests, and most nightmarish of all for your common Hobbit, adventures. This was a great way to start the film, as you are about to settle into a 9 hour, three movie, emotional and action packed re-creation of the Lord of the Rings. The foundation is set and the story is ready to begin.
When watching this film, one must consider the work of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As this trilogy is based on the original three movies, as well as the book The Hobbit itself, there are many standards the film must meet. As the books and the films were greatly regarded as some of the best fantastical creations of all time, the follow up films need to be made with the same magic and creativity. This would be the equivalent to the prequel Star Wars films. When Star Wars fans got into the theater opening night to see that the mid 2000’s films had taken a romantic turn as well as an incorporation of heavy CGI and insanely annoying characters, the movies were instantly written off. This is because the original movies were so insanely popular and special to so many, that to make something in its wake that did not follow the core values and themes was an abomination.
The same goes for Peter Jackson’s sequels. There was much riding on these films, many expectations that needed to be met. Another component was the similarity the film must follow to the book. Equally if not more important to fans than the Lord of the Rings films were the books. If the Hobbit deferred vastly from the original novel, many would be displeased. Now one could say that to take a 287 page book and turn it into three very lengthy films, is just the Hollywood pigs trying to wring out as much money as they possibly could from die hard fans who are for sure going to watch it no matter how good or bad it is. And you would probably be right. But at the same time, the first film does not differ too drastically from the novel, and the films as a whole follow a good script and generally please viewers. As a huge LOTR nerd myself, I can say that I was greatly satisfied with these films. If you are watching it to see orcs tear heads off of medieval era soldiers, you may be disappointed. Although there is a decent amount of this throughout the films, these movies have their own feel to them, the feel of camaraderie and adventure above everything.
When reviewing the film as a whole, there are many aspects to consider, many areas to give praise, as well as a few spots to deliver criticism. The best spot for me to start would be with the characters. Among the actors performances, the most notable were that of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Gollum (Andy Serkis), and Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). The choice to use Freeman as the main character of the story, stammering hobbit Bilbo Baggins was a wise one by Jackson. Freeman has the shrewd looks, hesitant nervousness, and polite pushover qualities in his acting that were necessary. These same skills he has employed in the show Fargo, as well as the show Sherlock. He fits the personality seamlessly of a hobbit that was descripted in Tolkien’s novel. And while throughout the film it seems like he is not over eager to be a part of the company, at his lowest points he delivers stunning courage and selflessness heart to those who talk him down and do not believe in him. My favorite line of the entire movie, comes when the Dwarves have escaped the goblin tunnels, and are regrouping, noting that Bilbo is not among them, when he is in fact, running up to them while invisible. The dwarves are bickering about his whereabouts when Thorin who has always thought of Bilbo as weak, declares that Bilbo has ran back to his home because of his cowardice. When it seems that hope is lost, and the company has lost their burglar, Bilbo emerges from the shadows. Thorin is still not satisfied, and asks why Bilbo came back. Bilbo pauses, and then surprises everyone by declaring he will indeed stay with the company.
“I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. And that’s why I came back ’cause you don’t have one. A home. It was taken from you. But I will help you take it back if I can.”
This whole scene just melts my heart every time. In this moment, Bilbo had the chance to leave and go home, but somewhere in that moment, he found true courage and a sense of responsibility for the world. After he says this, the Dwarves all just stare at him like someone they have never seen before, but with the utmost gratitude and respect at the same time. The soft orchestra illustrates the sincerity and emotion of the scene and the orange glow of the setting sun on the edge of the mountain forest dazzles all the characters in beautiful harmony. It is in this moment that he is truly one of them, and never again will his commitment be questioned. It is a defining moment in the film as well as the trilogy, and a beautiful shot all in one. A+ Peter Jackson.
Throughout the film there are many gorgeous shots just like this. A prevalent theme in Lord of the Rings Jackson continues through this trilogy. Long, majestic, entrancing shots of gorgeous scenery or a somber individual accompanied by beautiful chapel like singers or orchestra. Another example would be when Gandalf sees Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) at Rivendell. Gandalf turns slowly and looks at her, who is slowly rotating to camera front. She is in all white against the dark night sky and literally glows like some sort of goddess. Another great element of this film would be the score. Award winning composer Howard Shore comes back again to create a stirring soundtrack that prevails and seamlessly controls the mood all movie long. Camerawork and soundtrack play a big role in the film.
There are many common themes throughout the film. The most recurring would be that of vengeance. The foundation and thesis of the film, vengeance burning in Thorin Oakenshield’s heart as well as that of the rest of the Dwarves. The hate that was stoked in all of them once the deadly dragon stormed into the mountain and evicted them from their homeland never stopped smouldering, especially of that in the heir to the throne, Thorin. Each Dwarf would follow him to the bitter end without question, and he bears their undying loyalty with all of his might. Until they purge back into the dragon’s lair and reclaim their gold, or die trying, none of them will falter. Another valid theme of the film is destiny. As these films highlight a minor tale in the greater good of Middle Earth, the larger story follows after these events in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are two courses this theme could follow within the film. The first of which is the preceding signs of an ancient evil, slowly rekindling in the dark. When wizard of the forest, Radagast the Brown finds the council of Gandalf, it is to discuss the emergence of a necromancer. Dwelling in the abandoned fortress of Dol Guldur, the dark lord Sauron’s evil has begun to creep into the forest. After informing Gandalf of the evil that is lurking and presenting him with a morgul blade, the main antagonist of the original films is reintroduced much to the delight of longtime fans. Another plot point that sets up the original films would be the finding of the ring of power that the movies are named after. When Bilbo stumbles on the ring in the goblin tunnels, destiny made him find it, as it was meant to be found. The same fate was with Bilbo when he found it as Frodo was meant to have it as well, leading him to his own destiny.
“Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you were also meant to have it. And that is an encouraging thought.”