An Expected Return, With Unexpected Drama

I must’ve been nice this year, for the LOTR anniversaries just won’t stop coming! Today we celebrate the debut of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’

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I remember it like it was yesterday. After months of anticipation, drama in the news, and overall uncertainty on all fronts, my family and I were finally here. We were never premiere people. In fact, we were never really in-person theater people. But the movie we were here for today was special: the long-awaited movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) was a highly-anticipated return to Middle-Earth after 9 long years, and though it is not without its faults it still managed to recapture some of the magic of the original trilogy. There was simply nothing better to my younger self, and it still holds a dear place in my heart almost 10 years later. However, the film was met with a mixed reception upon release.

One of the earliest memories I have concerning An Unexpected Journey is a news article quoting the impeccable Sir Ian McKellen. It is almost a decade later, so bear with me, but if memory serves, Sir Ian made a comment about how uncomfortable it was to act under Peter Jackson’s new directing methods for the film.

What were these new methods, you ask? The use of CGI, rather than small persons, children, and/or tricks of the camera to make the hobbit and dwarven characters appear their appropriate heights. Using CGI meant that the actor for Gandalf was acting alongside a greenscreen rather than his peers, who would be animated in later.

This issue of CGI would continue to plague the Hobbit trilogy for as long as it ran (2012-2014). But why? Did it look bad? Was Sir Ian McKellen’s discomfort so heinous? No, and no disrespect to my favorite actor, but no. The issue was that An Unexpected Journey, and the rest of the trilogy, felt “off” for many fans compared to the originals.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - IMDb

The last Lord of the Rings film was released in 2003; CGI technology was nowhere near as extensive as it was in 2012. And so, Peter Jackson did what any director would have done: the sets, effects, and many, many, many characters were real, tangible things. This made for a completely different feeling than the Hobbit films, which had CGI sets. The newer films also made use of CGI for the orcs, goblins, and other non-human characters that appear in the stories.

All of that said, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is by no means a bad film. It will never be the original Lord of the Rings. But to me, it feels like returning to an old friend. Or perhaps like reading a love letter to Middle-Earth itself. The original actors for Bilbo and Frodo Baggins in the intro; the familiar soundtrack; the very same set (or a very convincing replica) for The Shire.

The film does much to make old fans comfortable with this new, or rather old adventure they are about to go on. And don’t even get me started on the songs. “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates” is as the kids say, a banger.

I could go on all day about the pros and cons of the Hobbit trilogy, the merits of CGI vs. Practical Effects, or even open the can of worms that is books vs. movie adaptations. However, on this anniversary of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’s film debut, I think it better to end on a positive note. What better way to do that than by a quote from the story itself:

“There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”