So, there's this little movie that you may have heard of called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It is set to arrive in theaters with modest expectations built off of director Peter Jackson's previous works, all of which involve adaptations of some author named Tolkien. Whatever your expectations are of this movie, I would honestly encourage you to check them at the theater door and just be prepared to let Mr. Jackson and company take you along on their little adventure.
Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is, for the most part, a typical Hobbit who enjoys sitting by the fire after a good meal or watching the sun rise while partaking in some of the Shire's finest pipe weed. What he never expected was to find himself in the company of 13 dwarfs and a wizard named Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who he previously only knew to be an expert at creating and setting off some truly brilliant fireworks displays.
The leader of the band of dwarfs is known as Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who, along with the help of Gandalf, has assembled an unlikely band of adventurers to reclaim a kingdom that was lost many years ago. The dragon Smaug has taken residence within the mountain kingdom and his obsession with riches has no equal in all of Middle Earth. As part of an ancient bloodline of dwarf Kings, Thorin holds claim to what is rightfully his and is willing to do battle with all manner of orcs, goblins, and even the fire breathing dragon himself to take back his domain.
If you are familiar with the story as told in the book, then you will agree that what I have mapped out is the basic run of what to expect, but keep in mind that this is Peter Jackson's interpretation of the Tolkien novels and he, along with writing partner Philippa Boyens, have gone to great lengths to tie the Hobbit trilogy (Yes, its going to be three movies) together with the previously released Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is one of the reasons why I stated earlier you should throw out preconceived notions and expectations about what you have always wanted this movie to be. If not, you may be at least a little disappointed.
As I say this, keep in mind that I thoroughly enjoyed the movie even more so than I expected to. One of the ways that the director stays true to the original story is how it is more lighthearted and fun than the later Rings novels. What is essentially a book written for kids is treated in the same manner in its adaptation to the big screen.
The pacing is very upbeat, the action is pretty incredible although at times feels a little like a video game, and the whole thing is just a really fun ride. When the credits start to roll, you barely feel like you've been watching a three hour movie and you are left wanting to see what happens next without having to wait for the next movie to come out.
Where The Hobbit differs from the book (This is going to stay spoiler free) is how more of what is happening around the story is shown in a way that helps tie it all in to the Rings trilogy. That may be a bit confusing, but just be aware that you will see characters from the later books that don't necessarily appear in The Hobbit. With all this in mind, I never felt like it went too far off track and people that only know the movies will appreciate the little bit of a helping hand that Jackson and Boyens offer them throughout the journey.
Concerning the actors, I'm not sure if a finer group of talent could have been assembled to take on the roles offered in this movie. First off we get to enjoy the return of Ian McKellen to one of his most beloved roles as Gandalf the Grey and he does not disappoint in any way, shape, or form. Andy Serkis once again puts on the motion capture suits to portray the one and only Gollum and Richard Armitage more than amply fills the kingly shoes of Thorin Oakenshield.
Finally, I believe that Martin Freeman should receive some sort of recognition or consideration for his performance as Mr. Bilbo Baggins as he plays the character exactly as you always pictured him and even more perfectly than you ever would have imagined.
The one downside to this movie is that we now have to wait a year to see what happens next, although I suppose its also a good thing that we actually do get to see two more movies set in the land of Hobbits, wizards, and dwarfs. With The Hobbit, the bar has been raised just as high as when The Fellowship of the Ring was first released with a wonderful mix of great acting and amazing visuals all tied together by Howard Shore's brilliant score.
As the journey unfolds, you can't help but enjoy how the whole thing seems so new and exciting yet there is still that feeling of familiarity that you expect from this franchise...and that is an encouraging thought.