When the worst comment I can find myself making about a movie, especially a sequel, is that it's just "more of the same" in comparison to its predecessors and the director's previous work- I feel like I'm digging for the negative instead of focusing on the positive. An Unexpected Journey, the first installment in Peter Jackson's prequel trilogy to his own three-part adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, is a welcome return to Middle Earth. In fact, the instant Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) meets Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), I fondly remembered my experiences of watching The Fellowship of the Ring. It was a start to a grand story of adventure, friendship, and how good should and could triumph over evil.
The first scene of this film features an older Bilbo (Ian Holm reprising his role) getting ready for his birthday party that will set-up the events of The Lord of the Rings. Bilbo is writing down his adventures for his nephew and then the events flash-back to younger Bilbo. Freeman was a great choice for his part. He embodies the charm that Holm brought to the part as well as a hint of uneasiness and a sardonic nature that young Bilbo's elderly counterpart would inherit as he spent more time with the ring. Still, if The Lord of the Rings was the sometimes-dark epic, The Hobbit is the adventure-loving all-ages companion piece. The film is incredibly fun, suspenseful, and the charm that I feel is inherent in Bilbo is also found in Gandalf and the dwarves with the exception of the stoic leader Thorin (Richard Armitage in a performance that hopefully will further his already impressive career from British film and television).
Jackson did choose to use more CGI than practical effects in concerns to some of the sequences, especially when it came to depicting the orc characters. Then again, it adds to the more family-friendly feeling that surrounds the story of The Hobbit. This is about adventure and comradery and the advances in CGI certainly haven't harmed Andy Serkis' return performance of Gollum. The former hobbit almost seems more expressive as well as naturally youthful in comparison to the character we met in The Two Towers.
As I start to finish writing about my thoughts on films from 2012, I'm really impressed with how many great big-budget blockbusters were full of such depth and enjoyment (albeit to varying degrees)- The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Men in Black III, Prometheus, Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises, Skyfall, and now The Hobbit. It's nice to see genre films continuing to be an important part of the public conscience.