If you haven't yet seen “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Jurney,” you might be interested in the review that I recorded for Spokane Public Radio:
I was doubly prepared for my “Hobbit”-viewing experience. For one, my wife and I had just taken a 12-day cruise around New Zealand, the filming site not only for much of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of “The Hobbit” but also for his earlier adaptation of author J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
One of the cruise highlights involved our touring “Hobbiton,” the sheep farm-turned-movie set that had been transformed into a reproduction of the Hobbit shire Bag End. Our time in Hobbiton gave me the chance to annoy my brother Randy as we watched Jackson’s new film. Every time the shire would be featured on-screen, I would turn to him and whisper, “I stood right there” or “That’s exactly how it looks” or “Even you could fit through that little door.” You know how brothers are.
It was Randy, five years younger than I, who provided my second Cliff’s Notes preparation for “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” He’s been a Tolkien scholar since middle school. Recently, when a mutual friend asked him if he were a Tolkien geek, he answered yes. In Elven. So if I annoyed him by bragging about having visited Hobbiton, he paid me back by muttering through the entire film – pointing out how closely Jackson was following Tolkien’s book. Or, more specifically, not following. At one point he threw up his hands and said, “Now he’s just making this up out of whole cloth.”
Word to the wise, then: Don’t go to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” expecting to see a literal representation of the 320-page book that Tolkien wrote. What Jackson has given us instead is a drawn-out replication of the 1,216-page trilogy, the first part of a whole new three-picture deal. But – is that a bad thing?
To Jackson fans, likely not. For much of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” we viewers are thrown back into Tolkien’s world as the Oscar-winning filmmaker first pictured it. We begin with cameos by Ian Holm and Elijah Wood, the original Bilbo and Frodo, and then we are transported on a grand adventure – in truth, a quest – that Bilbo – a younger version now played by Martin Freeman – narrates as a memoir.
It’s in The Shire that Gandalf – Ian McKellan, again – shows up at Bilbo’s door. And then follow the dwarves. A dozen of them. All bent on joining Galdalf in an attempt to reclaim their ancestral homeland, the Lonely Mountain of Erebor. To complete the task, though, Galdalf convinces them that theft would be their best option. And that The Hobbit – Bilbo – is a natural burglar. A lie, actually, but at heart all wizards are opportunists.
And so the band, 14-strong, sets out, encountering trolls and orcs, giants and goblins, wargs and – so memorable from the trilogy – the changeling Gollum, drawn on by the dwarves’ desire to reclaim their kingdom, and by Gandalf’s fear that some ancient evil has been roused.
If Jackson’s film feels a bit familiar, and if it boasts one or two too many perilous situations followed by miraculous escapes, so be it. That very familiarity is what makes “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” special. The question now is, can Jackson maintain that good feeling for two more pictures?
Only the elves know for sure. My brother is withholding comment.