Mondays with Schobie: An Unexpected Journey, revisited



          A look at the music, books, and films you should be experiencing this month.

 

It’s easy to question the logic of big studios releasing so many big-budget films on the same day, or within days of each other, during the holiday season. Case in point: December 20, 2012, a day that saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey open up in the midst of Skyfall, Les Miserables, Django Unchained, and many others. (R.I.P., Jack Reacher.) How’d Bilbo and company fare? Just fine, grossing $300 million in North America alone.

But the response was a bit muted. Perhaps some critics and audiences felt as if they’d been there and done that. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy does not seem too long ago, after all, and the film faced some negative prerelease hype with its controversial 48 frames per second frame rate. And come Oscar time, the film was mostly ignored, losing the three technical awards it had been nominated for.

With the film arriving on DVD and Blu-ray from Warner Home Video tomorrow, the time is right to take another look. Watching it again, months after its release, it seems clear to me that above all else, it is a film for the converted. An Unexpected Journey is unlikely to win over Shire haters, but for everyone else, it's a wonderful piece of storytelling.

Technically, it's hard to think of a filmmaker more adept at handling the often tricky mix of CGI and reality than Peter Jackson; he is certainly more at home with it than Spielberg and Lucas. And while the jury is still out on the intelligence of splitting The Hobbit into three films, it does allow Jackson enough breathing too to ease into the first chunk of Tolkien's text. Many saw this as a negative, but the leisurely opening felt, well, Hobbit-y to me.

It also gave Jackson ample time to introduce us to Martin Freeman’s Bilbo. The casting of the star of the UK version of The Office was the director's smartest move. Freeman is extraordinarily funny and sweet, and his Bilbo is, in fact, a more compelling lead than Elijah Wood’s Frodo.
 
What the film lacks, casting-wise, is the charisma of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn or Sean Bean’s Boromir. It is hard to feel as strong a connection with Richard Armitage’s glowering Thorin Oakenshield, and his fellow dwarves tend to blend into one. I expect them to become more individualized in the next two films.
 
And there are, of course, returning greats like Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaving. And let us not forget Andy Serkis's Gollum, whose scenes with Bilbo are among the finest of the entire saga. It is no coincidence that  it is the film’s last hour that sees it really begin to move.
 
The next film, The Desolation of Smaug, isn’t too far away, and I expect the reaction will be similar: The die-hards, of which there are many, will love it, and so will folks like me, those who are not exactly die-hards but certainly fans. And the rest? Who cares?
 
Until then, fans can relish in watching the first film at home, perhaps followed by the first trilogy. It is a testament to the talents of Peter Jackson and company that the films flow together so magically.

 

Still courtesy of Warner Home Video.

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