By Forrest Hartman
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Available on: DVD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, digital download and on demand
When director Peter Jackson announced that he would release his cinematic version of novelist J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” in three parts, there was reason for concern. Jackson is a great director, but he often favors length over subtlety. Even his exceptional 2005 “King Kong” remake was at least 20 minutes too long, making a three-movie adaptation of a 320-page book frightening.
However, if “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is an indication of things to come, Jackson’s vision is solid. The movie is a nicely crafted and well-paced feature that returns viewers to Tolkien’s Middle-earth in satisfying fashion.
The events depicted in the film occur before those from Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but the director has tied everything together as neatly as possible. Where appropriate, actors from the earlier movies reprise their roles, and the visuals match perfectly.
“The Hobbit” is a slighter work than “Lord of the Rings,” but it’s still a good adventure tale, and Jackson gives it weight by adding material from Tolkien’s “Rings” appendices. The focus is on Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a subdued hobbit who is disinclined toward adventure until the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) convinces him to help 13 dwarves reclaim their homeland. “An Unexpected Journey” takes viewers only partially through the story, but Jackson ends the film on a reasonable note, just as he did his three “Rings” movies.
Freeman is outstanding as Bilbo, McKellen is typically great as Gandalf and the remaining members of the ensemble cast are also strong. Not surprisingly, the film also has wonderful visual effects, a point underscored by the fact that it received Oscar nominations in three technical categories.
Just like “The Lord of the Rings” movies, “An Unexpected Journey” boasts a pleasant mix of action and plot, and it has tons of added detail for hardcore Tolkien fans. If Jackson can maintain this level of quality throughout the trilogy, it will further cement his reputation as one of today’s best filmmakers.
DVD and Blu-ray extras include more than two hours of behind-the-scenes content taken from Jackson’s video journals.