Long before the advent of streaming and downloading whole TV series, box sets and trilogies were the haven for people wanting hours of indoor entertainment or binge watching as it’s now known. The Hobbit prequels definitely cater for this as they follow directly on from one another like TV show episodes, plus they verge on 9 hours in total runtime.
Following the rich source material of the book, The Hobbit, this film is based on the adventures that came before The Lord of the Rings trilogy and thus also taps into all the lore that made the original so good. An Unexpected Journey (AUJ) covers the journey from the idyllic Shire, to a location known as Carrock, where there are views of the Lonely Mountain, a key location. This is where problems with AUJ begin to surface because it takes the entirety of it to reach a minor checkpoint. There does feature occasional clashes between the new heroes and orcs but it is dulled by the sheer volume of Middle Earth diplomacy that make UN conventions seem like dramatic theatre. At its core, there are echoes of The Lord of the Rings with a reluctant hero and an ultimate overarching goal but when I finished watching it, my immediate feeling was that nothing much happened and it was nowhere near as epic.
To give perspective on the amount of filler content, books of a similar length are usually turned into a film that take half as long to watch as to read. Here, with three films, it takes over two times as long to watch as to read, which means it dilates time as much as a galactic star. Another side effect is that AUJ sorely lacks a middle or an end.
One small redeeming quality are the special effects, which mean that when there are moments that grab your attention, they do look good. Having watched all of The Hobbit, AUJ would best be viewed fast forwarded and joins the barrel of disappointing prequels which, in hindsight, shouldn’t be too unexpected.