The problem with “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — and it’s a problem many fans have likely foreseen — is that it follows in the Middle-earth-shattering footsteps of a giant. Peter Jackson’s masterfully assembled “Lord of the Rings” films, based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy book series, arguably made for the greatest trilogy to have ever graced the silver screen: staggeringly epic, meticulous in its world-building, showered in Academy Awards and instantly amassing a legion of hardcore enthusiasts, it was a crowning achievement that, for some, was the true “Star Wars” of the noughties. By sheer comparison, this first entry in a three-part adaptation of Tolkien’s more kiddy-friendly “The Hobbit,” while boasting its own thrills and charms, comes up a little short — it’s a hobbit pitted against a giant it couldn’t possibly outmatch.
It’s a comparison that might have been uncalled for if it weren’t for the direct connections Jackson makes between this new prequel trilogy and the earlier films: a wholly unnecessary prologue finds Ian Holm’s Bilbo Baggins and Elijah Wood’s Frodo having a chat in the former’s humble home, while Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee briefly return in a visit to the opulent Elven outpost Rivendell. Even some of the musical cues are the same: the re-introduction of the Shire is soundtracked by Howard Shore’s whimsical piece “Concerning Hobbits,” and the appearance of the one true “precious” ring is greeted with that ominous string melody from “The Prophecy.” (Continue Reading…)