Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman
Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, J.R.R. Tolkien (novel, "The Hobbit")
From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends.
The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.
$84.617 million on 4045 screens.
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 7.1
French Dolby 5.1
Portuguese Dolby 5.1
Italian Dolby 5.1 (3D)
Runtime: 169 min.
Release Date: 3/19/2013
&bull. Both 2D and 3D Versions
• “New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth” Featurette
• 10 Video Blogs
• DVD Copy
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [Blu-Ray 3D] (2012)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 29, 2020)
When he wrapped the Lord of the Rings saga almost a decade ago, it looked like Peter Jackson left behind Middle-earth – as director, at least. While he initially planned to act as producer for an adaptation of The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien’s first novel and the world’s introduction to that fantasy realm– Jackson eventually decided to take over as director.
And he also expanded plans in regard to the length of the adaptation. Although Tolkien’s Hobbit was radically shorter than Lord of the Rings, Jackson chose to film a trilogy that will eventually run about as long as his three Rings films.
This starts with the opening chapter, 2012’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. In a prologue, we see how a dwarf named Thror (Jeffrey Thomas) becomes king of Erebor and leads a long era of prosperity. Eventually Smaug the dragon attacks and despite the best efforts of Thror’s grandson Thorin (Richard Armitage) and others, the creature lays waste to much of the area. The dwarves must flee and Thorin feels bitter when local elves refuse to help their cause.
From there we meet our title character, hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). He feels content to live in the agrarian Shire, but after much prodding, Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) convinces Bilbo to leave home and go on an adventure. Bilbo will accompany Gandalf and a team of dwarves – including Thorin – on a mission to reclaim their kingdom from Smaug.
And so starts a quest that apparently will take about nine hours to complete. Probably the biggest complaint leveled at Unexpected Journey stems from its length. At 169 minutes, it’s not quite as long as any of the Rings films – the theatrical versions of Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers were each about 10 minutes longer – but given the nature of the source, the running time caused qualms.
As I alluded earlier, Lord of the Rings boasts about four times as many pages as Hobbit, so the choice to expand the latter to a film franchise with virtually the same running time as the former seems puzzling. Sure, Jackson adds to the tale with bits and pieces of other Tolkien works, but the concerns of fans – many of whom figured Hobbit should’ve been one long movie and that’s it – make sense.
When I went into the Rings films, I did so with little foreknowledge of the series. As I mentioned when I first reviewed Fellowship, I saw the movies before I read the books, and I never viewed any prior adaptations, either. This meant that while I’d picked up on some Tolkien basics over the years, I went into Fellowship with only the most rudimentary understanding of the nature of Middle-earth and its denizens.
Obviously, with multiple viewings of those three movies under my belt – as well as a reading of Rings - I’m much better acquainted with Middle-earth now. Nonetheless, I still haven’t read Hobbit; I may do so after I see the third film in the series, but I’ve made a conscious choice to wait until then.
That’s largely because I want to enjoy/evaluate the three Hobbit movies on their own merits without comparisons to Tolkien’s text. As I mentioned, Jackson expands the original novel with nuggets from other Tolkien works, but I can’t identify the different components.
Speaking as someone without that prior knowledge, I think Journey fits together pretty well. Many folks criticized the film for its alleged padding, but I don’t agree with those thoughts. Are there parts of the movie that don’t appear to be crucial to the plot? Sure, but I can’t find much that I would deem gratuitous; the material blends with the overall narrative in a satisfying way, so even when Journey becomes vaguely indulgent, it remains enjoyable.
Any problems with pacing remain minor. No, I can’t say the movie moves at breakneck speed, but I don’t regard that as a problem. It invests in its characters/settings well and develops them in a satisfying manner.
Another criticism comes from Jackson’s apparent attempt to turn The Hobbit - essentially a light children’s tale – into the operatic high drama of Rings. I can’t argue that point; Jackson reuses pretty much every stylistic trick he developed a decade ago, and the project often adopts a dark tone at odds with the notion of a breezy fable. The movie also can feel like a conscious attempt to create a formal prequel for Rings rather than to leave Hobbit as the standalone tale it is.
While Jackson’s choices may be inconsistent with the source, I think they work fine for the movie itself. Sure, Jackson’s reliance on the same cinematic bag of tricks can get a bit tedious; how many swooping shots of characters on the run can one man stand? Nonetheless, I find the end result to usually come across as engaging and involving, so I won’t complain too much.
A fine cast benefits the film as well, with special praise due to Freeman. He creates a thoroughly well-drawn Bilbo and adds a much needed tone of humanity to all the action and effects. Bilbo could easily get lost along the way – heck, the movie does seem to forget him at times – but Freeman’s performance ensures that the lead character never disappears from our consciousness.
In the end, I understand the many criticisms of Unexpected Journey in the abstract. I get the concerns that a short, fun fable has been turned into something much different, and I comprehend the feeling of déjà vu that comes along the way.
Nonetheless, Unexpected Journey does the trick for me. Whatever liberties it takes with the source – and apparently it takes many – suit the film and help turn it into an entertaining adventure that flies through its 169 minutes quickly. I look forward to the next chapter.
Footnote: for an alternate view, contact my Dad. We went together to see Unexpected Journey theatrically, and although Dad loved the Rings films, he hated this one with a passion.
Somehow this devolved into an argument about the movie in which Jerry the cartoon mouse danced with Gene Kelly, whereas Dad claimed this occurred in An American in Paris while I assured him (correctly) that it was Anchors Aweigh. Because of that detour, I didn’t learn many of the specifics that caused my Dad’s dissatisfaction with Journey, but if you get in touch, I’m sure he’ll be happy to tell you!
The Disc Grades: Picture A+/ Audio A/ Bonus B
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. From start to finish, the film delivered a spectacular visual experience.
At all times, sharpness appeared crisp and distinctive. Even when the movie went with wide shots – which happened a lot – the elements remained accurate. I saw no issues with moiré effects or jaggies, and the image lacked edge haloes or signs of artifacts. No print flaws appeared in this clean presentation.
If you saw the Lord of the Rings films, you’ll encounter a similar palette here. Greens and ambers dominated the Hobbiton sequences, while other parts of the flick opted for teal, blue and orange. Within the movie’s choices, the hues looked full and well-developed. Blacks were deep and dense, and shadows showed nice clarity and smoothness. This was an absolutely top-notch image.
Similar pleasures came with the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack of Unexpected Journey. Of course, the movie’s many action sequences offered the most memorable material. The early battle between Smaug and the dwarves dazzled, with fire and flying all around the room, and subsequent fight sequences worked equally well. The soundscape placed components in the appropriate locations and meshed them together in a smooth, well-blended manner.
Audio quality was also terrific. Music seemed vivid and bold, while speech was distinctive and concise. Effects showed solid clarity and accuracy, with low-end response that gave the package life and heft. This was an impressive auditory piece.
This package includes both the film’s 2D and 3D versions. The picture comments reflect the 2D edition – how does the 3D compare?
Pretty favorably, though it doesn’t look quite as amazing. Sharpness and brightness take minor hits, so the 3D’s image falls a wee bit short of the 2D’s quality. These are minimal differences, though, so one should still expect a very appealing picture.
Shot on native cameras, Journey provides a handful of “pop-out” moments, as elements such as weapons, birds, insects and the like occasionally break free from the screen’s confines. The majority of the film concentrates on depth, though – and it does so in a most satisfying manner.
Journey delivers a terrific impression of dimensionality that places the viewer in the surroundings. Rain engulfs the characters, and scenes where height becomes a factor – such as in Goblin Town or on bridges – offer a dizzying impression. Journey may not boast the most fun 3D presentation I’ve seen, but it uses the extra layer of visual punch to impressive effect.
A featurette called New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth runs six minutes, 35 seconds and provides notes from co-writer/co-producer Philippa Boyens, producer/director/co-writer Peter Jackson, production designer Dan Hennah, Hobbiton movie set and farm tour owner/operator Russell Alexander, conceptual designers Alan Lee and John Howe, actor/2nd unit director Andy Serkis, 2nd unit 1st AD Liz Tan, and actors Richard Armitage, Mark Hadlow, Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood, Jed Brophy, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Dean O’Gorman, Peter Hambleton, James Nesbitt and Stephen Hunter. The program gives us some info about the sets and locations used for the film. At times this feels like an ad for tourism, but it delivers enough good material to merit a look.
10 Video Blogs fill a total of two hours, seven minutes and seven seconds. Across these, we get notes from Jackson and a huge old variety of cast and crew – I’d transcribe the names but it might bust my keyboard.
Created for Internet promotional use, the blogs take us through the production of Unexpected Journey. We start with location scouts and pre-production and progress through aspects of the shoot, post-production and the film’s premiere. While not as good as a more standard documentary, the blogs still give us a nice look at many areas of the flick’s creation, so they’re informative and enjoyable.
Finally, we get various Trailers. We find six ads for Unexpected Journey as well as promos for video gamesThe Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth, Guardians of Middle-earth and Lego The Lord of the Rings.
An extra disc provides a DVD copy of Unexpected Journey. This provides only the movie and no extras.
As the opening chapter of a three-part saga, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey introduces us to its tale well. Though some scenes threaten to sag, they remain enjoyable and engaging, so the film keeps us with it across its long running time. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture and audio along with a pretty informative collection of video blogs. While not quite as good as the Lord of the Rings films, Unexpected Journey delivers fine entertainment in its own right, and the 3D version makes it a bit more fun.
To rate this film, visit the Blu-Ray review of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY