The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by: Peter Jackson Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Ian McKellen Running Time: 2 hrs 49 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: December 14, 2012
PLOT: A short man with hairy feet (Freeman) is enlisted by a group of Dwarves to help them take back their home, which was taken over by a bossy dragon.
WHO'S IT FOR? This is for fans, and outsiders. Fans will likely be thrilled to see so much detail from the book brought to screen, and outsiders will be on-board for the overall thrills being offered.
EXPECTATIONS: A long time ago, I had read the book, and seen the animated film. I was never a huge fan of Jackson's Rings trilogy, but I was certainly curious about the event of all of this. And this 48-frames-per-second thing? What the hoot is that all about?
Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins: Since his days on the BBC version of "The Office," Freeman has been an ideal hobbit, already packed with the stub physique and cheery goofy attitude. Thus, seeing him as Bilbo Baggins is a joy that doesn't get old (at least for this movie), with the actor well in tune with the neuroses of this character. He provides the necessary humor to go beyond cult geekery - with Bilbo on board, the rest of the movie is a bunch of angry Dwarves with dedicated facial hair. Score: 7
Richard Armitage as Thorin: He's no Aragorn, but he'll have to do. He has the same presence of Mortensen's franchise iconic character, levying the short people goofiness with injections of brawn. Likely constructed to have the same appeal as Aragorn, this imitation doesn't provide enough to stand outside Mortensen's shadow, and his bits of cheesy dialogue ("Noooo!!!") is a bit damning to boot. Score: 5
Andy Serkis as Gollum: Animated actor Serkis continues his motion-capture prowess, providing a performance of everyone's favorite schizo, Gollum. Though brief (and apparently final for this trilogy), Serkis' time on-screen is a sharp moment of uncomfortable interaction between him and Freeman. The two have great chemistry, certainly. Though, to be fair, Serkis has great chemistry with himself. Score: 7
TALKING: The film uses a whole glossary of terms, filled to the brim with similar-sounding names and places. Thankfully, the script is sharp enough to function without that being an issue, leaving the task of remembering all of the Dwarf names up to the viewer, if he or she so chooses (it's like an adventure in itself!) For a film that heavily uses spoken word storytelling (flashbacks in flashbacks), the voiceover work isn't too overwrought. Score: 6
SIGHTS: I saw this movie in the high frame rate, so while the other five viewing options for the film are available, this is what I have to work with: and to that I say, the high frame rate is not the coming of the Antichrist cinema, but it isn't particularly productive for the film anyway. Often looking like someone accidentally hit the fast forward button, the images can be sped up, sometimes comically so. The 48 HFR makes the film look like a video game's cutscene, cheapening the labored effects (of which the created locations here are incredible). It is, however, something one's eyes can settle into, without one's attention being consumed by distraction. It may not be something that provides a great reason to be there, but, it isn't a totally destructive format choice. If it should become a common thing, though, then ... uh ... Score: 7
SOUNDS: Howard Shore provides another Middle Earth soundtrack that hits the same folksy notes, finding particular beauty in the end, leaving this part one of three on a good note. The most impressive musical moment in The Hobbit is a humming musical number, as performed by vocally capable Dwarves. It is a chilling moment, both of lush harmony and also meditation within the story. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: The escape from the Misty Mountains is the film's most exciting sequence - it might look like a video game, but damn if it doesn't have cleverness to its energy.
ENDING: A group of birds save Bilbo and company from a collapsing tree, and some evil Orc action. And then, the journey continues!
QUESTIONS: Are the next movies going to be as long? Or longer? Are the next films also more likely to be taken as blockbusters, or is there a chance that The Hobbit could elevate Jackson back up to award status (for whatever that is worth)?
REWATCHABILITY: With the first viewing going by pretty quickly, I'd certainly be interested in sitting through this one again.
Bringing viewers back to Middle Earth for the first time in nine years, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey dumps a lot onto any moviegoer's plate. There's a serving of new characters, a couple of old ones, and a whole kingdom of Dwarves that get evicted by a dragon that looovvveeess gooollllddd. On top of this, the movie is presented, (for some), in the immediately jarring high frame rate, which challenges you to write the film off immediately, casting it into the fire of bitter moviegoing expriences.
But, as the journey of Bilbo Baggins begins, so does the story settle. It doesn't have the same urgency of The Fellowship of the Ring, but it has a comfortable lightness. There are a ton of Dwarves on screen, but you don't know their names. However, it doesn't seem like it matters. This is a journey that is able to coast on characters with their various traits and shenanigans, moving from one amazing set piece to another amazing set piece, with a couple of thrilling action sequences in the third act. Like the rest of the film, an escape scene from an evil kingdom of Goblins is extremely well choreographed, offering some of the most exciting big budget action of the year. And then suddenly the film is over, with more than 160 minutes having passed, and it feels much quicker than something equally big like The Dark Knight Rises.
Taken in this more simple way, The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey is a humbling of a grandiose franchise that once elevated to nerd and award heights, taking the series back to more relaxed roots, farting around with characters that seem like evidence of too much pipe usage from Tolkien (rabbit sleigh?), and yes, stretching a single book into three movies. Like the high frame rate, I imagine this lightness could get boring after more than one film, but as as re-acclimation to the nerdy territory of Middle Earth, it's not a bad re-beginning.
The Unexpected Journey certainly leaves one geared for the next part of the adventure, its climax enticing for how things can get bigger on this journey with such sweet significance (having a home). Having set quite a chore for himself by expanding this book that was once a concise 77 minute animated movie into three films, Jackson has more feats to pull off, and we are certainly wondering as to how he'll do it. Also, I'm curious about this climactic, massive dragon. It had better be a good dragon.
FINAL SCORE: 6/10