After years of waiting, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is finally here. Do we have a movie that is worthy of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy? Partially yes, and partially no. But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a good movie.
Peter Jackson frames this new trilogy around Biblo writing the story about his journey. There’s a nice prelude that involves older Bilbo (Ian Holm) telling Frodo (Elijah Wood) to run along, as Frodo is about to surprise Gandalf, which leads to the beginning of Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a nice touch to tie the movies together, instead of just having this series be a prequel. One thing that both works and doesn’t in the plot is the long exposition at the beginning. Tolkein’s world always needs some explaining, but don’t dwell on it to much. The opening at the Lonely Mountain sets up the journey well enough, but it goes on for a long time. It should have been much shorter, ala Fellowship. Get the information dump out of the way, then move on. I haven’t read The Hobbit in almost ten years, so I’m not certain at what point of the book the movies gets into. The ending is somewhat abrupt, but the audience can feel it’s coming.
Bilbo’s journey from simple hobbit to big adventurer is paced masterfully. Every little development feels natural to the plot. It’s funny to see Gandalf be cordial to Saruman, and one of the problems of prequels. The dwarves, all likable to the audience, sadly get lost in the shuffle. Gandalf repeadedly says their names, counting as he goes along. This is how the audience feels. It doesn’t help that a lot of their names sound similar. Bombur (Stephen Hunter) gets all the sight gags, being the fat bastard that he is. Fili and Kili (Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner respectively) get slightly more lines, but equal nothingness in character development. With two more movies, there is ample time to develop them to the level they deserve.
The plot moves along at a nice pace. Something is always happening, and one big development comes after another. Jackson gives The Hobbit a lighter tone than the original trilogy. With the The Hobbit going from two to three movies, there was going to be some padding to the plot. Fight scenes go one for a little longer than desired, but are visually pleasing
Much like the original trilogy, the script develops the main leads very well. Gandalf, Bilbo, and Thorin get some great scenes, making the audience love them. Sadly, the rest of the dwarves don’t get as much time. They all have lines, but they could easily be switched between dwarves and the audience would never know. There are a few songs this time around, and I’m glad they added them. Having a few songs mixed in adds a weight to the history that is constantly referenced.
Peter Jackson’s masterful direction is on display here again. The movie runs a little loser though. There are more handi-cam shots, quickly putting focus on each dwarf as they fight. The CGI has improved vastly since the original trilogy. The massive beasts look quite real, as do the sets. The goblin’s massive kingdom looks amazing. The big point in the win column is the seamlessness between real life and CGI. The height differences are done perfectly. I do wish that the production crew had used more costumes for orc like characters. Perfect CGI will never beat real costumes and makeup.
Howard Shore orchestrates a beautiful score. He uses old suites from the original trilogy as a way to bring the audience back in, then quickly switches over to the new music. It’s a great way to welcome the audience back to the universe. And I’ll admit that I got a massive grin hearing the original songs. It’s great to see hear them in a theater once again.
There is nothing left to say about Andy Serkis as Gollum. The guy deserved an Oscar when the original trilogy came out. Ian McKellen slips right back into the role of Gandalf. Richard Armitage, as Thorin, was a great surprise for me. He balances the line between guarded and stupidly proud well. His emotional ending was very moving. As a fan of the BBC show Sherlock, I knew Martin Freeman was an amazing actor. But his role as Bilbo is simply perfect. He embodies a young Bilbo in every sense. He’s a coward, but the audience loves him. When Bilbo decides to step up and become less of a coward, Freeman keeps his cowardly nervous ticks in, to show how hard of a time Bilbo is having. Bilbo’s game with Gollum is a great example of this.
The frames per second (FPS) has been a big controversy for The Hobbit. When I saw The Hobbit, I saw it in 3D and 48 FPS. Peter Jackson filmed it in 48 FPS, where most movies are filmed at 24 FPS. For a frame of reference, imagine watching a baseball game on ESPN in HD. That’s what this looks like. While The Hobbit isn’t going to start a new trend like Avatar did with 3D, it’s an interesting choice. At times, the 48 FPS looks amazing. A massive fight with trolls is a great example. There are many things moving around, especially CGI things, and it all looks real. The motion blur is perfect. But then we have a scene where CGI orc dogs are running across a field, and it is clear they were inserted. If 48 FPS is going to be the way of the future, the technology needs to catch up. Much like when HD TVs were invented, every TV show looked like crap. I’m not sold on 48 FPS, but I’d like to see how other film makers use it.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a good movie that is worthy addition to Jackson’s Tolkien movies. But right now, I’m saying this series should have only been two movies.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets 4/5.
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