The Hobbit, written by J. R. R. Tolkien for his children, was published in 1937 and was the first glimpse of Middle Earth we were ever given. It was released 17 years before Fellowship of the Ring.
The biggest problem audiences face with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that we all watched Lord of the Rings over a decade ago. We are accustomed to Middle Earth in it's most dire of times. Taking place 60 years before dear Frodo's first steps out of the Shire on his quest to save Middle Earth and destroy the one ring, The Hobbit is a much lighter in tone tale about a group of Dwarves on a quest to reclaim their home which has been taken by the nasty dragon Smaug.
Director Peter Jackson takes a more fittingly cartoony approach for his adaptation. Creatures such as the Goblin King aren't designed to be lifelike and scary, but stylistically cartoonish. There is a lot more CGI work this time around, things are more animated than grounded. Though a radical change from what we're used to, this certainly plays to The Hobbit's effect.
You won't be tearing up over the struggles of these characters, but you'll be grinning like a fool and giggling along with their antics. An Unexpected Journey, for the most part (my one and only gripe with this film is the overly long Rivendell sequence, which really does drag), never stops being an absolute cinematic blast. The camera soars through action sequences similar to 2011's TinTin, the Dwarves sing and fool around and Martin Freeman as Bilbo is the most delightful onscreen presence in years.
Freeman deserves to be truly commended for his performance. He takes Ian Holm's performance as the older Bilbo and then makes it his own. He is charming, modest and adorable. The Riddles in the Dark sequence in which he verbally battles Gollum, reprised by Andy Serkis (Who was also the Second Unit Director on this trilogy), is one of the most masterfully acted scenes of the year. It's tense, it's funny and Peter Jackson even tweaked it to grow Bilbo's character even further.
Another main concern people have had is that this small 300 page book has been split into three movies. The book is very condensed, so this was never really a problem, but Peter Jackson has added extra material to the movies. He introduces two more subplots pulled from Tolkien's appendices, both of which are welcomed and compelling. One is the Necromancer which leads into the ressurection of Sauron, and the other is Azog, a villain opposing the leader of the Dwarves, Thorin. Neither subplots will likely resolve until the third film, but it's clear they are going to pay off and enrich the story in the end.
The Hobbit has been filmed in 48 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24 which we've used in movies for over a century. It's the first film that has ever done this, and a technological leap forward that enhances and gives reason to digital filmmaking. A lot of general audiences and critics alike have already disowned this new format, as it looks too much like a video game or a soap opera television program. It will definitely bother some, but it's the future of filmmaking and needs to be seen and reconsidered.
The 48 frames, or HFR (High Frame Rate) as they're calling it, creates a much more immersive experience. Because it doesn't feel like a movie, and more like a set, it feels real. There were moments I forgot I was looking at a wall and not through a window into this beautiful and expansive world. One thing that really struck me was that every single swing and slash of a sword felt disturbingly real, even though it was usually directed at CGI characters.
This, coupled with some of the best visual effects ever put to screen, especially the noteworthy new facial animations on Gollum (Which put Avatar to shame), simply make this the best looking film of the year.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is only the first third of a trilogy. It was hard to fully appreciate The Fellowship of the Ring until we saw the catharsis finally come two movies later. Journey is an exceptional starting point though, if this level of quality is matched for the next two movies then we will have a trilogy that could possibly be even better than The Lord of the Rings.
Bring on The Desolation of Smaug next December, with a healthy dose of HFR!
By Brodie Marchant
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The Hobbit - Movie Chat
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
StarringMartin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving
Length 169 minutes
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