Nine years after the cinematic conclusion of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, academy award-winning director Peter Jackson returns with J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
Because it represents a more innocent era, the 1937 prequel novel has a lighter tone than Tolkien’s 1954 trilogy. “Lord of the Rings” was influenced by the carnage of World War II.
Jackson’s first film in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy – about a battle between good and evil – was released three months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York. Audiences identified with the filmmaker’s apocalyptic world.
“The Hobbit” is the first installment of Jackson’s new trilogy, which sets the stage for “Lord of the Rings.” Fans have hailed the director’s digitally-upgraded project but the question for many is whether “The Hobbit” will match its predecessor.
Tolkien wrote the novel for his children in 1937. The visuals are crisp and bright compared to its predecessor, thanks to Jackson’s cutting-edge digital technology which brings thousands of computer-generated characters and three-dimensional worlds to life.
“It will give you an immersive sense of reality, like taking the screen away and looking into a window, into the real world,” Jackson says.
A scene where the Hobbit is lost in a cave and meets Gollum for the first time showcases the film’s technological virtuosity.
“I wanted him to look the same on the outside but, underneath his skin, his muscles around his eyes and mouth are much more realistic and more complex, like a human being’s,” Jackson says. “When Andy Serkis performs Gollum, every little nuance of his performance is now captured accurately one-to-one in the digital puppet.”
Andy Serkis is once again Gollum, surpassing his previous impersonations. Other favorite actors return: Ian McKellan as the wizard Gandalf and Cate Blanchett as Princess Galadriel. Elijah Wood has a cameo role as Frodo.
But newcomer Martin Freeman carries the title role as the timid but ultimately brave Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who gets recruited to help 13 dwarfs reclaim their kingdom.
For fans the world over, “The Hobbit” is a skillful prequel which revives interest in Jackson’s Oscar-studded trilogy. But a shorter version of this film would have made for a snappier, more thrilling addition.
The film’s comic relief undercuts the gravitas of the original trilogy. Granted, we haven’t yet seen the two other installments. But so far “The Hobbit,” while impressive, cannot match the director’s previous opus.