The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ★★★

The December Project: Film #46

I was 10 years old when Peter Jackson first took us to Middle Earth in The Fellowship of the Ring. For an imaginative child with a love of fiction, it was heaven. By the time he brought us back, seemingly for the final time, with The Return of the King two years later, I had read Tolkien's books at least twice each, written a few of my own unashamedly-plagiarised novels, wrangled the money from my parents to begin amassing LotR collectibles (still have them, still awesome), and seen the three films a grand total of no fewer than twenty times on the big screen. I was utterly in love with this world thanks to Jackson's vision thereof, and it's a passion that, while undoubtedly dulled, has never died. Envisaging The Hobbit as prequel rather than Rings as sequel is no issue for me; I came to the 1937 novel years after the later books and loved it all the same (I read it three or four times in the space of a particularly dull holiday, and even learned Tolkien's Elven runes so as to translate the lettering that detailed the front cover). It would be nigh-on impossible for me to come to this movie with any more love for its world, and yet I sat before the screen with more worry than excitement. It breaks my heart to say that worry was justified: An Unexpected Journey isn't a bad movie, but it's so far from great it almost hurts. I adore Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated take on The Lord of the Rings, but Jackson's is by far the definitive telling. His Hobbit, by contrast, has nothing on Rankin-Bass' version (a 77 minute adaptation of the whole book, incidentally). Indulgent and overlong, expansive and exhausting, An Unexpected Journey has all the craft and spectacle we first saw on screen eleven years ago, and even a little of the magic, but almost none of the heart. It's fine, just fine. In a way, that's even more upsetting than if it were awful.

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