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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

By Andrew Burgon /
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November 13, 2013


Release: December 14, 2012
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriter: Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and Gulllermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage, Manu Bennett, Jed Brophy, Adam Brown, John Callen, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Barry Humphries, Stephen Hunter, William Kircher, Sylvester McCoy, Bret McKenzie, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt, Dean O’Gorman, Conan Stevens, Ken Stott, and Aidan Turner
Genre: Fantasy
MPAA Rating: PG-13

It’s Good to be Back in Middle-Earth

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first installment of Peter Jackson’s three part adaptation of Tolkien’s novel, The Hobbit. While it may be an unexpected journey it also feels like a homecoming. For here we find ourselves in Middle Earth again. Swept along in another long, sprawling story stamped indelibly with Jackson’s and his co-contributors’ handling of interesting characters, beautiful landscapes, heart felt moments and an epically long quest.

It is 60 years before the events of the Fellowship of the Ring and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits Bilbo (Martin Freeman) with a hidden agenda. Before the night is over his home is inundated with 13 dwarfs who make themselves at home and wreak havic in his pantry. The reason they are there is a baffling mystery to Bilbo till Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitrage), heir to a Kingdom long lost, arrives. Thanks to a vivid prologue at the beginning of the movie we know his story. The dwarf kingdom deep inside Misty Mountain had amassed itself treasures of gold and jewels and unwittingly made itself the desirable home of the dragon Smaug who drove out it’s inhabitants. With the help of Gandalf, the dwarfs intend on taking back what is rightfully theirs. Gandalf, puzzlingly enough, believes that Bilbo should join the group and take on the role of ‘burglar.’

The next morning they depart the safety of the Shire intent on entering Misty Mountain via a secret entrance. Their journey is a drawn out, meandering affair that takes them through hair raising adventures that include a trio of mountain trolls, a multitude of goblins and an ever-searching group of throat cutting orcs. On the way, they stop by Rivendel where Gandalf consults with the White Council. Here a few familiar faces make a welcome yet brief appearance. The Elf Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). The movie ends just as they reach site of the Misty Mountains.

There is a lot to like in The Hobbit. I just have to start on a minor note with Gandalf’s ‘Good Morning’ humor. It took my friend and I by pleasant surprise so early in the movie and admittedly I think we laughed too loud!

There are a number of notable performances. Martin Freeman plays a young Bilbo. His performance from comedic what-the hell-is-happening hobbit to brave hero who not only outwits Gollum (Andy Serkis) in a potentially deadly riddle contest but also saves Thorin is praiseworthy. Richard Armitrage’s portrays Thorin well coming across aptly as the hot-headed hero he is meant to me. He also has the gravitas necessary to keep us engaged with the group. Another notable performance is by Ken Stott who plays Balin, an older dwarf who counsels Thorin. Of particular note is the story he tells of the courageous Thorin that has the group and the audience in awe by the end. Andy Serkis reprises his role of Gollum. Few could flawlessly play the twisted soul and mind of Gollum so well. Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is without doubt one of the big draw cards of the movie. The undeniable leader of the quest is sly and emotional with a dash of humor.

Criticisms abound over the Hobbit of which I will only mention a few. The first is that the 169 minutes is not only too long but as Ken Hanke put it, “has more padding than Eddie Murphy’s Norbit fat suit.” In truth, Bilbo wasn’t the only one who felt the dwarf’s had well and truly overstayed their welcome in his home. Half the audience probably did, too. The 300 page, 19 chapter novel on which the trilogy is based is being stretched out to almost 9 hours of movie time. It is being supplemented with parts taken from the appendices of the Lord of the Rings as well as additional parts made especially for the movie. Some of the scenes like that of the three trolls are quite long. Personally, I love the odd long, lingering story and nowhere more so than in middle Earth. Due to the length of the movie I got the feeling that I not only got to visit Middle Earth but got to revel in it as well. The procession of spectacles on the screen causes the time to flash by anyway.

Then there’s the criticism about the overuse of CGI in the movie. Not only that but that some of the effects aren’t so good or convincing like the scene where the wizard Radagast purposely leads the orcs away from the group on a sleigh pulled by hares. While the movie is certainly oozing with CGI I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. I found it sufficiently good enough to keep me rooted in the world I was watching. It’s no where near as bad as watching an old King Kong movie that has a man in a gorilla costume prancing around the stage! Gollum, of course, would have to be an exception and shines here as he did in Lord of the Rings. One of the CGI characters that particularly impressed me was Azog the Defiler. He’s a huge orc that fought long ago with Thorin and now seeks the heir of the lost kingdom relentlessly. There is a malicious potency that exudes from him and has a powerful voice that reverberates inside you.

Concerning the 48 frames-per-second that it was filmed in I remember seeing a trailer for the Hobbit at a local movie theater and feeling that it didn’t quite seem like a film. It seemed too realistic as if it was a theatrical play being videod. I was a little concerned that it might just thwart the element of escapism I so enjoy when watching a movie. I ended up seeing the 24 fps 3D version, however, which was noticeably crisp but more movie like. I hear though that the higher frame rate lended itself well to huge spectacle scenes but for the most part gave the film the oddly theatrical look I just mentioned.

Despite the criticisms of critics worldwide I feel spoilt. For the Hobbit is a real treat and a chance to enter Middle Earth again and witness another epic journey. The characters led by Gandalf and the competent handling by Jackson and his team make it a movie worth seeing.

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