While the Hobbit was released first, it’s road to the big screen was a bit rougher. There had been a couple prior attempts, most notably the Rankin Bass animated film.
After the success of the Lord or the Rings, the Hobbit was a no-brainer to the Studio. At the time, Peter Jackson was suffering burnout on the series. He was set on producing, but giving the director reigns to someone else. At first, Guillermo Del Toro was connected, but eventually he stepped down.
Eventually, it fell back to Peter Jackson. And so, nine years later, we received this prequel trilogy.
The Hobbit is a pretty short book. it is probably just long enough to be more than a single movie../but it is short enough to make a two parter troubling. So, of course, they landed on making a trilogy, so as to match up with the Lord of the Rings.
As the film opens, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood return as Bolbo and Frodo. They are prepping for the party from the open of the Fellowship of the Ring. Bilbo starts to recount the story of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor. There, King Thror becomes enthralled by the Arkenstone his dwarves discovered deep in the mines of their mountain. His relationships with the Dwarves and men of the region become poisoned. When the dragon Smaug arrives and drives all from the mountain (as dragons have a lust for gold), the Dwarves of Erebor were forced into a nomadic life.
Now, Thror’s grandson Thorin Okenshield is leading a group of dwarves to trying and take the mountain back. Gandalf has come to the Shire to recruit Bilbo Baggins as their thief. And after some hesitating, Bilbo agrees and joins the mission.
On their way, they run into trolls, Radagast the Brown (a wizard same as Gandalf of the region with a rabbit (?!) drawn sleigh(?!)), stone giants and goblins. And of course, Bilbo meets Gollum.
While this covers a large portion of the book, it still is set as only the beginning of a trilogy of films. As noted, the original book is not that long.
Which means…well… a lot would have to be done to stretch the story. An Unexpected Journey primarily does this by giving Thorin Oakenshield a primary Orc Nemesis named Azog. Short on personality, long on artistic design, Azog is big with a hook in place of one of his arms. He desires to kill Thorin. Now, Azog is not a complete invention. He is referenced in the book, but it was assumed he was dead.
They also use characters the books only reference. We never meet Radagast the Brown in the Hobbit. He is really built wholly fresh by the film-makers to rather mixed results for the film.
One of the problems the film had in theaters was a higher frame rate. The higher the frame rate, the less your movie looks like it was shot on film. In spite of being a crisper picture, it creates an off-putting effect, almost like watching a home movie. They appear to have fixed that for the blu-rays.
Visually, it is pretty neat to return to the environment of Middle Earth. The New Zealand landscape was a huge part of the character of the Lord of the Rings films, and they are a welcome sight here.
The dedication to costumes and set design and the CGI effects are certainly on point. And the casting is great. Martin Freeman is a terrific young Bilbo Baggins. For the most part, while it is not nearly as strong as the Fellowship of the Ring, I did enjoy the An Unexpected Journey.