Almost 10 years after the final film in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy opened in theaters, we are being taken back to Middle Earth in a George Lucas/“Star Wars” way of storytelling by the man who started it all, Peter Jackson. Overcoming many hurdles along the way, the movie that seemed would never be made — “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” — is finally here.
The film is the first in a trilogy of films being adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved novel, “The Hobbit,” but the decision to turn the singular novel into three films wasn’t the only risky move director Peter Jackson has made. The addition of 3D, shooting the film using a brand new and untested High Frame Rate picture quality, and expanding parts that weren’t in the original book were all gambles.
So did they pay off for the director and the movie studio? Here’s my review of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”:
Sixty years before the events of “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” have occurred, we come upon a very young and inert Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). He meets the famed wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who promptly invites 13 rowdy Dwarves into his dwelling where they consume his entire pantry in a single meal. The purpose for this gathering is to get the timid Hobbit to join their quest to journey across Middle Earth and reclaim the Dwarves’ rightful home, the Lonely Mountain, which was decimated and captured by the dragon Smaug years earlier.
The leader of the company is Thorin Oakenshield, the Dwarf prince who has led his people after they lost their home and then their king during a battle against the Orc hordes. Bilbo’s decision to join in on the journey comes even after he is told that he might not return to the Shire, and even if he does he won’t be the same.
This epic journey takes them across massive landscapes, on and through mountains and forests where they encounter Orc hunting parties, carnivorous mountain Trolls, massive wolf-riding Orc armies, entire hordes of cave Goblins and even giant bolder-throwing rock giants. They farther the move from the Shire, the more strenuous their journey becomes and the more apparent it is that there are dark forces at work in the world, that they don’t yet understand or are able to identify.
The journey is not completely bleak. An unexpected visit to Rivendell and the elves brings some answers to many of their questions, but the quest is still early and there is much space to cover with untold dangers around every corner. Bilbo gets lost deep in the mountain and encounters Gollum and a shiny ring, it’s only a game of riddles that lies between him and death. Can Bilbo muster the wits and the courage to escape Gollum’s grimy clutches in the darkness and return to help his friends in their plight?
There are a few different kinds of people who will be seeing this film, those dedicated and loyal fans who have read the entire series of books, and those who saw the original trilogy of films. Director Peter Jackson has crafted a movie that is sure to appease those wanting true faithfulness to the book, and also a fun movie looking for those wanting to discover the story for the first time on the big screen. While there are many outstanding moments in this film, including some revolutionary new technology, there are those that might find some of his choices distracting or possibly his “too faithful” interpretation of the original text to be long winded and slow at times. I find myself in the middle of these groups, but let’s break down and discuss the different aspects of the movie.
The cast is phenomenal, comprising mostly new faces, but we do see the return of many familiar characters. Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo Baggins and Richard Armitage as Thorin are the clear standouts of the new faces and the most thoroughly developed new characters. The tone primarily in the first third of the film and somewhat throughout is made much lighter and more whimsical thanks to Freeman’s comical nature. He is perfectly cast. Armitage, who is the leader of the 13 Dwarves, is clearly the leader. His scenes and expositions into his battle against Smaug and the Orc armies — including the devilish and monstrous white Orc — establish his courage and a sense of sadness, a necessity in establishing a reason for the entire journey. This exiled royalty shows himself to be a legend-in-the-making, whose dialogue and heroic actions make him worthy to be ushered into the stories of his peoples for eons to come.
As for the other Dwarves, they look quite similar, but there are many distinguishing characteristics and in different scenes we see glimpses into many of their personalities. However, more that needs to be shown in the future films to make them all clearly defined characters.
The storyline of trying to recover a home and kingdom from a loathsome dragon does feel like a weaker driving point when compared to destroying a ring that could resurrect the greatest evil Middle Earth has ever known, especially when it is apparent that the gold and gems within the mountain is what is driving many on this quest. I do think that “The Hobbit” was a worthy book that needed to be adapted to the big screen, but the pace can struggle at times due to the clearly very faithful adaptation of what appears to be every comma, period and semicolon. One of the saving graces is the fact that Peter Jackson is showing us new landscapes, characters, monstrosities and aspects of previously established characters that we have never seen. What you see on screen is never a repeated frame.
The other major feature that everyone wants to know about is the brand new technology of the 48 frames per second — that’s twice the normal 24 frames you see every second. I must say that because I have a smart TV with this motion blur technology I have already experienced this hyper reality look to movies at home, so I might be biased in saying that while it does give this grandiose motion picture the look and feel of a very high value television production, it also gives some of the crystal clearest images I have ever seen in a movie. That is high praise as I did see it on the gigantic IMAX screen and even that big the picture was unlike anything I have seen before.
At first, it can be a bit jarring, but after a while I didn’t really notice it much. Having said that, though, certain scenes were so clear that it almost made the special effects look not quite as real they could have. But this absolutely does not apply to Gollum — he has never looked more real. It is amazing to see the evolution of the character from when we first were introduced to him over a decade ago. His scene with Bilbo playing a game of riddles was my favorite non-action scene in the film.
So while it may be difficult for certain people to adjust to the different look and feel of the high frame rate, I do believe that this high frame rate made for excellent 3D quality and monstrous depth to the 3D in may scenes, which could be a game changer for future 3D productions.
Overall, I enjoyed the film immensely. There was so much heart and excitement to it. There are multiple scenes in which I literally held my breath because it was just so amazing. Fans will love “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” and everyone else should really enjoy it, but you must remember going in that this is the first of three films, so it doesn’t really have a proper conclusion. It is just to be continued until the second chapter hits theaters next December.
We know the way the story ends, now it’s time to discover and experience how it all began.
“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opens in theaters Dec. 14. It is rated PG-13 and also stars Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis and the company of dwarves are Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callan, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, and Adam Brown.
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