It seems that something Tookish was awakened in Bilbo Baggins when Gandalf the Grey invited the throng of Dwarves to meet at Bag End in the sleepy village of Hobbiton. As any lover of Middle-Earth lore is well aware, Bilbo was a great admirer of maps and stories. Outwardly he was quite respectable, always entertaining guests (who he invited!), tending his beloved garden, and never having any adventures or doing anything unexpected at all. But inwardly, in that place even he did not at first realize existed, something Tookish, something daring and adventurous lurked, waiting to be unleashed, or rather gently nudged into action by Gandalf the Grey.
And so began Bilbo’s unexpected adventure to help Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, who once were the Kings under the Lonely Mountain, now held in thrall by Smaug the dragon.
I grew up reading the Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. I’ve wandered the vast domains of Middle-Earth, following the characters crafted by the master philologist, J.R.R. Tolkien. They’ve become trusted literary companions every time I enter their wondrous worlds. Peter Jackson honors their stories well.
Like The Lord of the Rings films, the Hobbit follows the general outline of the novel, but also takes narrative liberties. Some are noticeable. A few are annoying. But none truly detract from the overall effort. And a fine effort it is.
The book is a children’s novel; the movie clearly is not. It is appropriately rated PG-13 for intense battle violence and frightening images of creature menacing. There are heads flying about, slashing of swords, wargs that are scarier than their LOTR versions, and a generally dark tone to the film. Again, this is not a children’s film, no small irony given it is based on a children’s book.
As with the novel, several themes are interwoven throughout the narrative. Evil. Good. Love of wealth and the disaster such unmitigated accumulation can bring on a people. The choice to stay safe or risk all for another. The choice to spare a life even if it is mostly given to evil, or strike it down without mercy.
Perhaps most telling is the confusing interplay of good and evil within every person, even if they seem mostly good as with Thorin, or mostly evil as with Gollum. It gives rise to an important question: when does a good character become evil as with Saruman the White? A vexing question that even Galadriel surely suspected was relevant early in this story.
I am pleased with the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I viewed it in 3D. While more expensive, the experience was satisfying, unlike most 3D efforts. Jackson got it right and it made for breathtaking cinema, including the sweeping nature cinematography and the way characters were developed, without becoming garish or stereotypical.
If you are a fan of Tolkien, you likely will enjoy it. If you are squeamish about flying Orc heads and severed limbs, you might want to pass on it. If you do go, be prepared for an unexpected adventure sure to become an instant classic.