‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated November 18th, 2014 at 3:56 am,

Martin Freeman Bilbo The Hobbit The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

If The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is any indication of what’s to come, Lord of the Rings faithfuls have reason to be hopeful that the director will create another captivating round of adventures.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first installment in Peter Jackson’s new Middle-earth trilogy – once again based on the beloved fantasy world created by author J.R.R. Tolkien. After director Guillermo del Toro left the project, Jackson returned to the director’s chair and expanded the would-be film series – originally conceived as a two-part adaptation of The Hobbit storyline – into a full-on Lord of the Rings prequel trilogy.

While the plot of Part 1, An Unexpected Journey, and Part 2, The Desolation of Smaug, offer a relatively straightforward storyline, the mystery surrounding Part 3, There and Back Again, has left many fans wondering if Jackson and New Line Cinema sacrificed a quality Hobbit adaptation in favor of a third opportunity for box office earnings.

There and Back Again is set for release in summer 2014, so it’ll be awhile before we can definitively weigh in on that trilogy decision; however, if The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is any indication of what’s to come, Lord of the Rings faithfuls have reason to be hopeful that the director will create another captivating round of adventures in Middle-earth. An Unexpected Journey does not match the scale established in Lord of the Rings, but there are still plenty of eye-popping visuals, enchanting action set-pieces, and intriguing character cameos, to prevent the film from being the underwhelming (and cheesy) experience that some skeptics were anticipating. In fact, the more intimate storyline, centered around reluctant/adventure-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), his thirteen dwarf companions, and the renowned Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), often outshines similar plot beats from The Fellowship of the Ring.

Richard Armitage The Hobbit The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), son of Thráin, son of Thrór, ready to reclaim the Lonely Mountain.

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a pre-Lord of the Rings Bilbo Baggins has abandoned his thirst for adventure in favor of a safe and comfortable life in The Shire. For years, Bilbo has preferred the quiet of Bag End, his Hobbit-hole, a well-stocked pantry, and the warmth of his fireplace to the beauty and terrors of the lands beyond his home – until Gandalf the Grey knocks on his door.

The wizard invites the hobbit on a quest to help a band of dwarves retake their homeland, The Lonely Mountain, from a ruthless and dangerous dragon, Smaug. Unwilling to resist the chance for adventure, Bilbo agrees to accompany the group, which is led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), heir to the King Under the Mountain crown. The company faces challenge after challenge, and – unbeknownst to even the wise Gandalf – bears first witness to a dangerous sequence of events that will haunt the next generation of hobbits, dwarves, elves, and men.

Unsurprisingly, there are several similarities between An Unexpected Journey and The Fellowship of the Ring, most notably the core premise (a ragtag group of heroes on a life-or-death quest through the wilds of Middle-earth); however, Jackson’s latest installment is differentiated by a number of smart filmmaking choices and solid character dynamics that were present in the Tolkien source material – especially the multifaceted Bilbo Baggins.

Ian McKellan Gandalf The Hobbit Movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Kili, Bifur, Gandalf, Dwalin, Dori, and Bilbo in ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

Freeman gives a sharp and charming performance as the brave hobbit – adding nuance to a role that draws stark contrast to Elijah Wood’s turn as Frodo (who enjoys an especially light-hearted cameo return). Unlike the Lord of the Rings protagonist, Bilbo revels in his adventure – even when he’s in over his head – with a solid balance of wit, humor, and bravery that translates into genuinely entertaining (as well as emotionally impactful) scenes. Even though the tone of The Hobbit novel is a bit lighter compared to Lord of the Rings, the film version of Bilbo easily fits into Jackson’s darker overarching movie universe – which should be a relief to viewers that were put-off by the rowdy dwarf antics that have dominated the movie adaptation’s marketing.

In fact, the dwarves successfully walk a very fine line between jolly goofballs and downright tough-as-nails warriors. Many of their respective combat sequences aren’t just exciting, they include unique action beats that are especially impressive when you take into consideration the blend of camera tricks, CGI, and practical prosthetics used to make onscreen interactions look believable when dwarf, goblin, hobbit, and wizard parts all collide in battle. A flashback sequence that establishes Thorin as the leader of the dwarf company is especially impressive, and could rival fan-favorite battles from Return of the King – cementing the character as one of the toughest brawlers in Middle-earth.

Several subtle (and some not-so subtle) changes lead to tense and exciting action sequences, complete with imaginative visual spectacle, helping to ratchet up the relatively modest Hobbit source material storyline – and produce a film experience that matches the thrill and breadth of the original film trilogy. That said, franchise fans will also appreciate many iconic character moments in An Unexpected Journey – notably the fateful game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis). Jackson manages to provide even the quietest scenes with weight – as certain developments carry impact far beyond the short-term Hobbit-centric storyline.

Gollum Andy Serkis The Hobbit Movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Gollum (Andy Serkis), Sméagol, ‘Riddles in the Dark’ fanatic.

Unfortunately, not all of the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings bridging serves the story at hand – resulting in a lengthy film (169 minutes) that contains a few overlong or disjointed scenes. All of the Lord of the Rings foreshadowing is interesting, but at times it undercuts the importance of the current objective (Smaug and the Lonely Mountain). It’s clear that The Hobbit story could have likely been told in two films and, as a result, viewers will probably be mixed on the success of the bridging scenes in An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, as well as There and Back Again; however, the extra content hardly undermines the quality of Jackson’s latest effort – even for especially cynical moviegoers.

Adding to the controversy is the director’s choice to shoot in 48 frames-per-second – a format that results in hyper-realistic visuals but, as many filmmakers argue, is so true-to-life that it can actually be a distraction – depriving filmgoers of immersion. We’ve put together a separate editorial discussing the successes and shortcomings of The Hobbit in 48fps but, with regard to a review recommendation, without question the format is worth experiencing – if for no other reason than to form your own opinion (assuming there’s a HFR 3D-ready theater near you). 48fps can be disorienting at first, but An Unexpected Journey makes smart use of the presentation – delivering a number of jaw-dropping visual set pieces. There are plenty of movies that we would not want to see in 48fps and, much like 3D, filmmakers should be smart about when to use and avoid the format, but Jackson’s Hobbit movie is a worthy (and encouraging) trial run.

In the long run, The Hobbit prequels could be weakened by Jackson’s expanded three film plan, but if Part 2 and Part 3 are as enjoyable as An Unexpected Journey, it’ll be hard for moviegoers to complain. The film includes everything that made the original Lord of the Rings trilogy so memorable – action-adventure, charm, humor, and breath-taking fantasy battles. Sure, a few extemporaneous Lord of the Rings elements slow things down and distract from the core Hobbit storyline, but overall, the director has once again presented audiences with a captivating and exciting trip to Middle-earth.

If you’re still on the fence about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, check out the trailer below:

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Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Spoilers Discussion.

For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check out our Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Now playing in 2D, 3D, IMAX, and 48fps theaters.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5

TAGS: The hobbit
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  1. just saw the movie. i really enjoyed it i thought it almost got away from Jackson with the side stories but as soon as it went back to the main plot it was good. I can see concerns for 3 films though which i do believe is just for the money but i still think they will be great movies. I know he is making a film about a work that is beloved by many and he should stick to its context but with no real originality left in Hollywood (i saw 2 previews that were pretty much the same movie with just slight differences) you have to give Jackson some credit adding some things that would tie into the LOTR

  2. Mark Kermode nailed it in his review of the film; clearly too long, the decision to extend it to three films is totally unjustified, and two 2-hour-plus movies would have more than sufficed in telling the story onscreen…

    • Idk how many times this has to be said, but it’s 2 films, the 3rd film is based on an additional 125 pages or so that TOlkien never published.

      • Actually, the additional material is being drawn from the appendices of Lord of the Rings and is interspersed through all 3 films. Radagast’s discovery of the necromancer and the White Council scenes are not found in The Hobbit. Gandalf’s departure in relation to the Necromancer are merely occurrences without explanation in the book and any answers Gandalf gives are typically cryptic.

        The Desolation of Smaug is going to climax with just that, his defeat and death. That still leaves the Battle of Five Armies, which is essentially akin to the preparation and battle of Helm’s Deep from Two Towers. There and Back Again is still going to be Hobbit source material, I’m sure.

        • Well said…

        • At last the voice of reason is heard. Thanks for pointing those things out Jeff, there are many that should hear.

          • Sometimes cryptic serves the purposes of storytelling far better than blatant.

  3. I did not like the 48-FPS, it made the fight scenes and other non-consequential but faster paced moments in the film feel too fast and jerky. One comment said that because they watch tv in HD that the HFR was not noticeable, but I watch in HD and I still found the HFR to be distracting.

  4. I’ve gotten back from watching this film (no 3D), and started looking through some reviews. I’m surprised at how negative the outlook is (more or less, it appears to me that the general outlook is positive, but not as positive as I was expecting).

    I’m 18 years old, and watched the LoTR trilogy around years 8-11 (and I still re-watch them occasionally through extended edition dvd). I came into this movie with less innocence and wonder at the age of 18, yet I felt an equal amount of wonder that the first films gave me at most parts, and a greater amount of wonder at a few parts. I think any movie that can challenge and possibly overpower the feelings of an 8-11 year old kid watching LoTR is fantastic.

    I didn’t walk into the film expecting as much as I got out of it, and I think that says a lot, because I was expecting a lot from the start. I was anxious that the film would lose the wonder, carefree, yet complex feeling of LoTR, yet watching through the entire piece has reassured me that this premise is still there and that the movie feels very much like the LoTR trilogy, and may even be better at making a grander world.

    I can’t remember a time during the film when I hoped a scene would progress quicker, or when the focus wasn’t important. From what I’ve read, people are mostly against the length of the movie (and subsequently the scenes). I’ve read arguments that say the film feels padded, yet I feel that it could have been longer. I question people’s insistence on not over-extending these movies, when they lead to moving scenes like when Bilbo takes a 5 second glance at Rivendell as he leaves to more adventure. Rivendell is the place Bilbo wants to live decades later in the LoTR films. This is powerful character development that provides some of the best moments of epics imo. And maybe scenes like this weren’t the problem to people who felt the film was padded, and it’s something extraneous that I glanced over. Nevertheless, on my first viewing, I felt engaged and interested the entire time.

    That’s just something I felt like I should write out. lol

    Overall, though, these are my opinions:

    Pros: beautiful soundtrack, young Bilbo’s complexity, action, scenery, ties between LoTR and The Hobbit, realistic capturing of the dwarf group as a whole, when Bilbo met Gollum and the entire scene that came from that, action pacing, how the feeling of the film manages to be about the already daunting task of taking back the dwarves home from orcs yet reminds us that this is a piece of the puzzle and that danger looms for the decades ahead

    Cons: some moments seemed a bit cliched too me, and some were a bit silly in general (I definitely thought the orcs and trolls should have been given more ‘alien’ voices [especially when speaking English]), I don’t think there were enough peaceful and playful moments to show how happy these heroes are despite the dangers they face, I felt like the film was a bit segmented, with different parts of the plot starting completely independent of one another besides reference

    Synopsis: I still loved it immensely though, and I personally think it’s battling right now with the LoTR movies for my favorite movie I’ve ever watched. It encapsulates the rare feeling that the LoTR had (it might be lacking in slowing down and showing that the heroes have goals other than a straightforward pursuit of their home), on a slightly less grand and desperate feel. And while I feel that some of the characters and scenes are a bit too cartoon-y, and that there are a few cliches sprinkled throughout, it doesn’t manage to break down all the successes the movie has to retaliate with.


    • Awesome review, I totally agree!!!

    • Awesome review TheDrummer.
      I completely agree dude.

  5. I thought it was the bomb diggity fresh! I just wish it was longer. That’s right. LONGER!

    • It will be… It… will… be…

  6. Did anyone else think that Ian Holm didn’t quite look or sound ‘himself’? Could they have used CGI to try to make him look a little more like Martin Freeman?

    • Yes. I think part of the problem is that this is a prequel to LOTR. These characters are supposed to look younger than they do in LOTR……. but the actors are physically older. So Jackson had to use FX and makeup to achieve this.

      It’s always easier to make a young person look old than to make an old person look younger.

      The 48fps crystal clear photography highlighted the actors faces…. so Ian Holm looked plastic to me.

  7. I watched this today and really enjoyed it. It has a more childlike quality to it that is in keeping with the book. It’s a little more fun than LOTR and not so serious.

    I watched it in the HFR, and while It doesn’t take long to get used to it, it does continue to look live a tv show. Albeit, the most expensive tv show ever made. I think the 24FR of film just simply looks better. That’s why movies look rich and glossy compared to tv. Perhaps that’s why tv shows that film like a movie look more sumptuous and special.

    I don’t think having everything look like reality makes it better. To me, movies in 24FR look better the way they do because your brain is kinda telling you “This looks like art”, which is the way I like it. I’d like to see “The Hobbit” again in 24FR to see if I prefer it.

    Oh, and the movie was great (^-^). Gollum was absolute perfection.

    • Agreed – watched in IMAX 3D and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but do feel that 48fps makes it look like an Aussie soap opera at times. Want to watch again on 24fps / non-IMAX. Bet it’ll be even better then :) ps: LOVED the Storm Giants!

    • Saw it in 2D 24fps, and I absolutely loved it. agree with almost all of the comments ive read up to this point. And as for Gollum. OMG. I read a review last week that said that the CGI was disapointing….I disagree vehemently. Only CG that was suspect was Smaug or what little was shown of him in the beginning… Gollum was the best CG animated character I have seen on screen to date. I especially loved his introduction, in the dark, and his eyes glowing like an animal’s…reminded me of the cover of my copy of The Hobbit i’ve had since high school in the 90’s.

      All in all loved every minute of it. i doubted Martin Freeman for all of 30 seconds, and was sold almost immediately and loved his performance.

      (SPOILER? I doubt it though) As for the aging covered up by makeup and CG the best use of this in my opinion was Christopher Lee as Saruman. For a 90 year old man, he looked fantastic and I was really paying attention, albeit in 24fps. he looked great.

      Way to go Peter looking forward to parts 2 and 3 (although I do believe 2 films would have been sufficient but am optimistic)

      And it was great to see the 7th Doctor in action!! yeah Sylvester!

  8. I like your even-handed fair assessment. Particularly the strengths you attribute to Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins.

    The problem I had with the movie is not so much the length of each scene, but rather the fact the characters are in constant peril. There’s very little down time between fighting, running, falling and escaping. I really wished we could stay at the Elvish City long enough to catch our breath. Still, all-in-all, looking forward to vols 2 & 3. – tinseltine,com

  9. Just saw it. I thought it was phenomenal. They really did a good job captivating the dwarven kingdoms and society; something that the prior films barely touched upon. Some bits were kinda cheesy but otherwise it was an awesome film

  10. Ben, great review. I think I enjoyed it a little more than you did, but I’ve seen LOTR Extended once a year since ROTK came out and read the book a few times. I actually knew the Rankin Bass TV movie was missing a bundle and I was so happy to see Jackson “put it back in”. I can’t wait for the spiders and wood elves sequences to see what Jackson does before the Lake Town arrival.

    Did you think Smaug’s eyeball looked a little too much like Sauron’s??

  11. I’m a 61 year old grandma–been reading the Hobbit and the LOTR every couple of years since 1968–I really liked the movie–except when the dialog digressed from the book. The music and characters and sets were wonderful.

  12. I have been a Tolkien fan since I saw the Hobbit cartoon on TV back in 1976 as a 6 year old kid. Having read and re-read most of Tolkiens works since then, I have to say I am very happy with this movie adaptation and Mr. Jacksons previous LOTR films. I went in knowing this is a film adaptation and not a direct book to film translation so I was not dissapointed at all with the artistic liberties taken to the source materiel. I did see it in standard 2D and it looked superb and epic to me. It was fun visiting Middle Earth again and I can’t wait for the next one.

  13. Would love to see Legolas once again.

    • He has a cameo in the next film!

  14. Peter Jackson did a wonderful job on this movie, I can’t wait to see the sequel.

  15. I def loved this movie but it did come as a shock that it ended where it did however I think it should be a two part movie not a trilogy just because I think they could easily finish the book in two and even if the third one is based solely on an unpublished work it would have to be just as well written as the actual book itself or I would lose complete interest in it I’m looking forward to part two and hoping part two will reach the end of the book at the least

  16. I’m a little surprised that people aren’t sure what There and Back Again is going to detail.

    Desolation of Smaug will handle the final steps of the journey to the Lonely Mountain through Mirkwood, more of the White council learning the true nature of the Necromancer, and climax with Smaug’s defeat and reclaiming the Lonely Mountain.

    There and Back Again will, of course, deal with the Battle of Five Armies as the goblins and wargs of the Misty Mountains after Gandalf slayed their king in Unexpected Journey and with Smaug no longer guarding a massive treasure. Elves, dwarves, and men stand far outnumbered against the goblins that march against them, leading us to a final film with its Helm’s Deep or Gondor type battle sequence.

    • That all sounds both unspeakably epic and awesome, I had serious doubts about splitting ‘The Hobbit’ into three parts; I see now that one film simply wouldn’t do it justice, and two films probably would have been just dandy, but the sheer amount of Tolkien material contemporaneous to ‘The Hobbit’ means three films is certainly a viable and worthwhile option, and which would be a missed opportunity if left unused… this trilogy is going to rock, ROCK I tells ya!

      One question though, will the siege of Dul Guldur be in this trilogy – where the elves push the Necromancer back to Mordor – and in what film would that fit in, any ideas Jeff dude…?

  17. Enjoyed this film but I wish they hadn’t cgi’ed it to death. Every single Orc etc was cgi, I don’t understand why when the make up was so good ib the first trilogy, and part of what makes them memorable.

    • The Warg riders weren’t CGI. The Goblins were, but it’s kinda hard to find hundreds of tiny folk to paint up as goblins.

  18. I am sitting at home, watching Disney’s animated version of ‘A Christmas Carol,’ starring Jim Carrey. It’s a sad commentary that it stays truer to the original than does Jackson’s ‘The Hobbit.’

  19. Yep, pretty much agree with your review, JB. I am stunned at the oblivious arrogance of Jackson and Boyens, thinking they could ‘improve’ on the storytelling of the Professor. This movie does seem geared toward the videogame crowd. Although I myself do enjoy a good videogame, there is nothing like a good book for total immersion. And this movie is nothing like a good book. Thanks, PJ; now who will dare bring this book to the silver screen in my lifetime?

      • Sometimes less is more. Sheer terror, as well as sheer joy, come when something is left to the imagination.

        • It’s a movie man. For something to be left to the imagination read a good book. In a movie, you can’t leave something to imagination.

  20. I’ve seen this last night and it was awesome.

  21. I really enjoyed the movie but I was underwhelmed by Freeman’s performance as Bilbo.


    • If you aren’t going to take the time to post your comments HERE, then I won’t bother to read them elsewhere. You shouldn’t be trying to direct traffic away from this site just to increase your readership.

  22. We (my son, my daughter-in-law and myself) just saw ‘The Hobbit’ last night, and we all loved every second of it! I thought that the opening sequence with Frodo and Bilbo talking tied it to the Lord of the Rings movie perfectly, and the appearances of Elrond and Galadriel were also welcome. It’s been so long since I read the book that I couldn’t remember a lot of the stuff that happened; the movie was all the more exciting for me because it felt like I was getting reacquainted with old friends. My only complaint was that we never get to see Smaug clearly… guess that will happen in part two.

    Was really surprised to see in the credits that Andy Serkis was the second unit director… guess he got to direct himself! LL!

    All in all, I give the movie a big thumbs up and five stars. Can’t wait for the next one!

  23. Just saw it tonight on a huge Isense screen in 3d with the 48fps,, Absolutely amazing, never had an experience in the cinema like it before. Took a a few minutes to get used to but after that I couldn’t get over how great it was,, well done Peter Jackson. I honestly can’t believe some of the negativity this movie has received. Haha, f***ing old dinosaur critic’s who were probably sceptic about the switch from VHS to DVD, how do some of you people still have jobs?? The story and sense of adventure were wonderful and had the heart and soul from the book,, can’t wait for part 2

  24. I have no problem with additions to the books story.

    No movies have come close to this or Lord of the Rings and as far as I am concerned,
    this story could go on for as many movies as he could produce.

    It’s a whole “”Middle Earth” and could go on for a long time between the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings
    (Like Star Trek).