The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey- An Unexpected Review

If you scan the recently announced Golden Globe nominations, you will not find a single nomination for the prequel to the trilogy that won 17 Academy Awards in total. The reason for that is simply because The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) is not worthy. Many things go wrong in An Unexpected Journey, not least of all the visuals (which the Lord of the Rings Trilogy won the Oscar for with all three movies). With all the admiration of the first trilogy and a stumble in the prequel trilogy, Peter Jackson may be pulling what George Lucas did with Star Wars.

Like Lucas, Jackson opted to use a breadth of computer graphics for his new movie, and this is by far his worst mistake. While much hubbub was made about the frames per second making the movie look bad, it turns out that it does not matter. The movie looks awful in 24 frames per second as well. There is a plane overuse of CGI for creatures such as orcs and even smoke when entirely unnecessary. Following the celebrated makeup and prop use of previous films, this is completely unacceptable. CG characters do not portray creatures having large weight well with their movements too quick and bouncing around like toddlers at times. The animation itself is suitable perhaps for a Harry Potter film or computer video games, but not for this series. It is easy to tell that more of the attention was clearly directed at 3D effects even while watching it in 2 dimensions. The layers stand out distinctly from each other like a weatherman in front of a green-screen and are not blended in the slightest. This movie looks unfinished and in desperate need of polishing. The Hobbit will not convince the industry to transition to a higher frame rate with such poor visuals to being with; it will perhaps take James Cameron’s sequel to Avatar (2009) to accomplish that. This deservingly needs to be called “the movie that CG and 3D killed”.

The presentation is not all bad, however. Possibly the best thing about this movie is Howard Shore’s amazing score and soundtrack. Though the typical environment sounds and effect sounds do not particularly shine or falter, the music greatly enhances the experience. Much of the same is replayed too often, but the music itself is extremely well done –especially in “Misty Mountains” as seen in the second theatrical trailer.

The movie, like this review, takes too long to arrive at the plot. While audiences are already familiar with the Ring of Power and Bilbo Baggins’ general history, they are not so familiar with the history of the dwarves and their homeland. Briefly, the dragon Smaug forced the dwarves out of the Lonely Mountain for the vast quantity of riches they covet, but has not been seen for 60 years. A band of 13 dwarfs seeks to reclaim it before other factions do with the aid of Gandalf the Gray, who recruits the unassuming Halfling Bilbo Baggins. Much of the plot revolves around Thorin, leader and heir to the kingship, and his hatred of the elves who did not help in the hour of need as well as his problem with Bilbo being unfit for such a journey. Richard Armitage’s portrayal of Thorin is suitable, though perhaps a bit overdone. Like a select other few, he seems too good-looking to be playing a dwarf. Martin Freeman does extremely well as Bilbo Baggins taking in part mannerisms and way of speaking for the character. Ian McKellen and others resuming their roles are on par, though no one stands out as exemplary. Andy Serkis’ performance of Gollum is again great; however the character is nowhere near as exciting as in Two Towers and Return of the King.

The story is stretched far too thin. Not the longest of the books, it seems Peter Jackson wanted to include near the entirety of The Hobbit book across 3 films. Some sequences could and should be entirely cut out to make the conversion to the silver screen less of a grind for movie goers. A scene with rock giants may add to the world of Middle Earth, but it adds nothing to the story and should have stayed solely in the book. So far, the story is slow and unsophisticated, lacking substance and deep thought. There is too little peril and drama. While waiting for part II of The Hobbit next year, the payoff is not yet great enough. We see the hobbit Baggins come into his own and find his bravery, but it just is not grand enough after experiencing the Lord of the Rings on film. Thorin’s difficulty with the elves may have made Gimli and Legolas’ friendship more special later on, but having the Lord of the Rings movies first makes The Hobbit’s spectacle lackluster.

Putting the audience back in Middle Earth again is most of what there is to enjoy. The Lord of the Rings movies left fans wanting more, and with a whole book of source material just as celebrated, there was no excuse not to make it. Everyone resuming their old roles helps put us back into the frame of mind that this world existed here long before and will linger on after the J. R. R. Tolkien books have ended. Despite its flaws, the movie is still enjoyable with its charm. The bar of expectations just has to be set well lower.

This is a rocky start to a new trilogy, and it is unfortunate that this has to be a reprimanding review for one of film’s and literature’s greatest franchises. It does not fall as hard or will be chastised as much as Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999), but the comparisons are surely there. The CG and 3D-centric design is the movie’s downfall while additionally hurt by a stretched out story better suited for prose novels. This classic hobbit tale is not beyond saving by any means, but the first third does not warrant its own movie. Expect An Unexpected Journey to be the least celebrated in the franchise.


What do you think? Leave a comment.

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J. Bryan Jones is a prospective writer-editor in both prose and graphic novel media. He created "Leather Wing Media" and currently lives in Los Angeles, CA.

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  1. Comparing Lucas to Jackson is maybe too much. Lucas practically destroyed the prequels while The Hobbit was an entertaining piece of work that is faithful to the books. But yea, could have been better… a lot better.

  2. J. Bryan Jones

    This was a small noted comparison and such an observation was not meant to be the center of discussion. The editor must have changed the title and the excerpt. If he insisted on changing the name of my article, it should have been “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey -Unexpectedly Disappointing” or something to that effect.

  3. BeccaMurphy

    Thank you for posting a spoiler free review. I’m watching this on Wednesday.

  4. Ryan Kantor

    I appreciate the well-written post, but wholeheartedly disagree. While this movie didn’t knock my socks off, it was about what I expected. It was very similar to all the others, and I didn’t think twice about the CGI or special effects. As will all the Lord of the Rings movies, the interesting looking characters and fight scenes were entertaining, and kept the movie engaging over the absurdly long 3 hours (including previews). I feel you over-analyze in your breakdown, getting caught up in things that truly don’t matter much… or at all. Though, as a true movie buff, that’s your right, but for a casual movie fan, I couldn’t disagree more. Still, great post.

  5. Kevin Licht

    I went to a 3D showing and the only thing that bothered me about the visuals was the use of said third dimension, in which there were characters randomly shown in the foreground who appeared separated from the rest of the film.

    The bigger concern I had with the movie was that I felt a certain disconnect in regards to the characters. The film takes way too much time trying to show a world that’s been shown before instead of focusing more on character. It even seemed like the supposed main character doesn’t even come into play until the last 30 minutes or so, which is the segment of the film that I feel actually merited spending the money for the viewing.

  6. David Tatlow

    I’m really hoping for more character development in the next two installments. I feel we’re not getting the whole picture just yet.
    I happened to really enjoy The Hobbit for many reasons, and I genuinely believe it is one of the best family films of recent times. The source material just doesn’t have the magnitude of LOTR, and I think there is a lot of pressure on the filmmakers to have The Hobbit be as “epic” as LOTR was. As a result, The Hobbit will always seem a little disappointing as its impossible to see it as a stand-alone trilogy.
    I didn’t necessarily think that the CG was bad at all – some of it was fairly impressive, and I found the 3D inoffensive. However I do definitely prefer the, as you say it, “make-up and prop use” that was so impressive in the previous films. I think that Fellowship suffered slightly when released on its own, and I’m hoping that this first installment of The Hobbit will reveal itself to be a very good movie upon the release of sequels, as Fellowship certainly did. I will be reserving judgement until I see the entire saga.
    Although I ultimately don’t agree with your review, it’s a great piece. I look forward to seeing more from you.

    • gabriella

      That was my main concern too, the movie needed so much more character development… almost ended up not caring much for any of the main heroes. and the slapstick humor didnt help.

  7. Jordan

    I am seeing this next week… I will lower my expectations and perhaps that will allow me to like it more 😉
    Thanks for the review.

  8. Stephen Matthias

    I spoke with a colleague recently, and she argued that the introduction/creation of Tauriel was meant to hook female audiences. After all, The Hobbit contains no active female characters. Furthermore, she thought it was offensive because it implies that female audiences cannot enjoy a male-dominated film adaptation unless there is a female character. While The Lord of the Rings also took some liberties when adapting the book to the screen, I think those taken by The Hobbit were far more noticeable if not disagreeable. While The Lord of the Rings had to cut and condense to bring the epic-length book to the screen, The Hobbit had to augment and expand in order to transform the small novel into three full-length films. This is why I, personally, cannot go back to the theatrical version of The Lord of the Rings after watching the extended edition, whereas the mere fact that The Hobbit even has an extended edition is redundant, if not ludicrous.

  9. The main issue is that The Hobbit is trying to be a trilogy where it was not meant to be. A stand-alone movie would have been better, even if it was three, four by or even five hours long.

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