The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V -6; L -1; S/N -1. Running time: 2 hour 49 min.

Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water…
Psalm 1

Bilbo Baggins and his companions on his unexpected journey.

2012 Warner Brothers

Bilbo Baggins writes for his nephew Frodo of the adventures by which he acquired the One Ring sixty years ear lier. Although the denizens of Middle Earth do not pray or write and sing psalms, Bilbo is like the righteous man celebrated in Psalm 1, especially as he matures during the course of the quest. He does not seek the advice of the wicked or “sit in the seat of scoffers.” Indeed, he would prefer to sit alone and enjoy his food and pipe, but almost before he can say “Middle Earth” he is deluged with uninvited dwarfs in a sequence that could be entitled “The Unexpected Guests.” They arrive singly and in pairs at first, handing their cloaks and weapons over to their uncomprehending host. This gathering scene, the funniest in the film, is climaxed with five or more of the dwarves falling into the entranceway as they crowd through the door, with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) right behind them.

The dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), grandson of the fallen king of Erebor, have come to enlist Bilbo (Martin Freeman) for their quest. The long contract contains, to Bilbo’s dismay a clause about possible “Funeral Arrangements,” so the comfort-loving hobbit is not too keen on going along, but then the wizard Gandalf can be persuasive. Their journey, of which this movie provides not even the “there” of the book’s subtitle “There and Back,” includes a stop-over at the elf kingdom of Rivendel where we meet again Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee). There is an amusing though dangerous encounter with three stooge-like trolls out to roast and eat the party, as well as assorted creatures such as Wargs, rock giants, and Giant Spiders—and of course the soulless warriors called orcs.

There are numerous CGI assisted battle scenes, some in the past that explain the fall of the dwarf kingdom to the forces of the dragon Smaug, many encounters on the run, and the climactic Battle of the Five Armies.

All the action is exciting, and the vast mountainous background beautiful, but the dramatic encounter all have been waiting for is Bilbo Baggin’s meeting with Gollum (Andy Serkis) deep within the earth. Separated from his companions, the lost Bilbo wants Gollum’s help in finding his way out of the maze of passages, so the two engage in a battle of riddles. Bilbo winds up winning the contest and also, by accident, the “precious” ring that Gollum has possessed so long—and which has so possessed him that he has changed from his once hobbit-like form into the corrupted creature he now is. Pursued by Gollum, intent on murder, Bilbo finds that one benefit of the ring is that it renders him invisible. He now has the advantage, one that could enable him to kill his adversary, but it is at this moment that the hobbit heeds the earlier advice of Gandalf—that real courage is not being able just to kill but to know when to spare a life.

There has been lots of controversy over the length of the film, though I suppose true fans will relish the added details that Peter Jackson provides. There seems to be more agreement among film fans that shooting the film in 48 frames per second, rather than 24, was a bad idea, the effect being somewhat artificial. The 3-D technique is well handled, the world of Middle Earth standing out all the more—though I still feel the scenes are darkened too much. The film has been called bloated—a similar charge I leveled against the expansion of the wonderful half-hour How the Grinch Stole Christmas into the ghastly feature length version—but this is a bit unfair. All in all, though this new Tolkien-inspired film is exciting, it does not reach the level of the original trilogy.

For Reflection/Discussion

1. What do you think of the decision to make The Hobbit into a trilogy? Although the LOR was released as a trilogy, what about this novel? Do you think this was more of a financial decision?

2. How does this film follow the pattern of the quest story? What of Gandalf’s reply to Bilbo that he cannot promise that he will come back, but that if he does, he will not be the same. How is this true, for example, for those who go off to war? Have you had some experience that changed you?

3. What do you think of Bilbo’s companions, as compared to those of the Fellowship of the Ring? Personalities lost in the large number of them?

2. How is Bilbo treated as an outsider, and by whom? What changes Thorin’s opinion of him?

3. Reflect upon Gandalf’s advice after Bilbo says, “I have never used a sword in my life.” Gandalf: “And I hope you never have to. But if you do, remember this: true courage is about not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.” 4. It is well known that Tolkien disagreed with his friend C.S. Lewis over the issue of whether to let their shared Christian faith show through their works, Tolkien eschewing such allegory as in the Narnia series: at what points in the film do you see the author’s Christian faith embedded?

5. A good preaching/teaching moment: Thorin’s embrace of Baggins after his long-calling into question that Baggins should be a part of the group. The two are so different—Baggins loving his books and peaceful home, and Thorin enjoying battle and rousing presence of stout-hearted companions.