At nearly three hours in duration, Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” plays like a director’s cut or an extended edition. That is to say, the length feels like its been stretched out as if run through Willy Wonka’s taffy puller. For Tolkien and “Lord of the Rings”/”Hobbit” enthusiasts, this overly generous runtime is probably a delight.
For people like me, who enjoy Jackson’s impeccable craftsmanship but fight to stave off boredom in his films, it truly is a test of patience. The movie takes a delight in moseying and taking its time to let the events play out. While at times, I found myself getting taken out of the movie by the obnoxiously slow pacing, I didn’t find it nearly as much of a chore as I would have expected.
For a movie I was nearly expecting to hate, ambivalence is a sort of victory for this first volume of “The Hobbit” trilogy in my book. Perhaps the grand scope of the IMAX 3D helped as there were aerial shots aplenty to take my breath away. The movie also features the same incredible technical achievement that won many Oscars for “The Lord of the Rings.” Visual effects, cinematography, production design, makeup, sound … it’s all back to stunning effect.
“An Unexpected Journey” seems to be setting the stage for better things to come, and I am confident that they will in fact be delivered. Though I couldn’t name you a single one of the dwarves, I found their quest for freedom moderately engaging. Jackson’s script, co-written Guillermo del Toro along with his Academy Award-winning writing partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, also brings back plenty of thematic resonance to give some meaning to the wandering in this first installment.
But the movie’s best feature, and maybe the most unexpected triumph, is the performance of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. He’s always fun to watch as a supporting actor, and with the spotlight on him, he doesn’t disappoint. He brings all the charm of his typical unassuming wallflower to Bilbo, lending a crucial everyman vibe to a character operating in a fantasy world.
Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins is almost like a new-age (or Middle Earth, if you must) Hitchcock hero, an average joe caught by surprise in a web of events beyond his wildest imagination. Although instead of the debonair suaveness of Cary Grant or James Stewart, Freeman provides a humble self-deprecation that makes him all the more delightful to watch. Though I could do with a little less easygoing construction in future “Hobbit” films, I am very excited to see how Freeman will evolve the character. B /