Film Review — The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Since finding success with the Lord of the Rings franchise (2001-2003), Peter Jackson has struggled to match those achievements. Subsequent projects King Kong (2005) and The Lovely Bones (2009) were met with only limited accolades and seemed to fall short of the standard set with his previous films. This year, Jackson once again returns to the director's chair with hopes to replicate his LOTR success by adapting J. R. R. Tolkien's original novel, The Hobbit.
Disclaimers: No sexual content, and except for a couple of mild instances referring to dwarfish anatomy, there's no real profane language throughout the entire film.
An Unexpected Journey features the same medieval-type of violence that was featured in the thrilling sword battles of the LOTR series. There are some mild blood wounds that appear in the film, as well as a couple instances of dismemberment on camera (one head and one arm in total). Though not violently graphic, parents should be fairly informed.
Added disclaimer: I am not an expert on the source material of either The Hobbit or the LOTR book series. As such, none of my criticisms will involve how the movie fails to live up to the impossibly high standards as set by the book's fans.
There are plenty of other reviewers who will tell you all the things that Peter Jackson got wrong in adapting from the source material—but you won't find those here. If that's your beef, look elsewhere.
Technical notes: If there's one issue that plagues An Unexpected Journey relentlessly, it's the pacing. Viewers might find themselves being lulled to sleep in the early goings of the film, at least until the dwarves show up at Bilbo's door. Contrast that with a back end of the film that's incredibly action-heavy, and the whole thing has a tendency to feel very unbalanced.
That aside, the first installment of The Hobbit trilogy features some great visuals, compelling music, and an entertaining cast that keeps viewers interested through all its bottom-heavy issues, largely due to the action sequences being well executed, as usual. Though there are shortcomings, it's a promising start to a new series of films.
Deeper meanings and greater gleanings: The books of the Tolkien-verse are famous for containing spiritual elements and a plethora of religious symbolism, which is perhaps one of the reasons why Christians have received the series so well. I'll pick out just one.
At this time of year, when the Christian Church celebrates Advent, the anticipation of the coming Messiah, it seems appropriate to focus on the unexpected nature of Christ's coming and by comparison, the unexpected hero of Bilbo Baggins.
The story of An Unexpected Journey resembles the familiar narrative of the Christmas story in some ways, though it may not be entirely obvious. Gandalf, Thorin, and the rest of the dwarves seek a fourteenth member of their band, the one who will bring completion to their group and help them take back their homeland.
What's unexpected is that Bilbo will be any more than a nuisance or hindrance along the way. Thorin, leader of the dwarves, expresses his displeasure on numerous occasions with Bilbo's presence, saying that he has no place among them.
As I watched, I was struck by the similarity to the long expected but still surprising coming of Christ the Messiah. The occupied nation of Israel likely expected that its Messiah would come and retake the kingdom by force. They expected a mighty king, one worthy of vanquishing the Roman Empire. What they got instead was Baby Jesus. No triumphant entry, no resounding proclamation—rather, a baby from Nazareth, born in a manger in a stable.
An Unexpected Journey takes this familiar story and transcribes it into a modern context. Despite being untrained in the ways of the sword, Bilbo proves his worth and manages to come to the aide of those considered mightier than him. Ultimately, it's not through his power that he proves himself, but through his kindness, and his willingness to throw himself into danger to rescue others.
It seems appropriate to consider this theme, particularly during the Advent time of year. An Unexpected Journey provides a brilliant illustration as to how God operates outside the confines of our expectations. We expect a mighty king to take back the Promised Land by force and instead we're met with meekness and innocence. Not a king by the world's definition of kings—and that's what makes it so profound.
Jesus defies our expectations of heroics, as does Bilbo in this film. It's important that we remember how great a God we have, and that He will act in a way He finds fitting—regardless of what we've been long expecting.
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