The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth with a worthy prequel to his “Lord of the Rings” trilogy in “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”.

“The Hobbit” is much lighter in tone, and stuffed with action sequences, but remains a shining example of how modern fantasy films should be crafted.

It has an incredible pedigree to live up to, but I think “The Hobbit” adds to the franchise proudly.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), is securely living a comfortable life in his hobbit hole, Bag End, in the Shire. One day, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) approaches him and strikes up a small, almost confrontational conversation. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Gandalf settles on him at that moment as a candidate for the 14th member of an expedition he’s helping to form. Later, unannounced, a steady stream of Dwarves begin showing up at Bilbo’s door. Their company, 13 Dwarves in all, assemble in his home to discuss their plans and induct Bilbo as their burglar and 14th member. A flustered, overwhelmed Bilbo initially declines, but after they leave in the morning he realizes what he’d be missing out on and runs off after them.

The party, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) is heading East to reclaim their fallen mountain city from a Dragon. Years ago, the Dragon was attracted to the hoard of gold the Dwarves had amassed, and it took their city from them. The Dwarves scatter throughout the land, and many of them are slaughtered in a costly conflict with Orcs, but during the battle Oakenshield proves himself a warrior and worthy leader. Now he has assembled a small band to travel back to the mountain to slay the Dragon and reclaim their home. Even before they arrive they will face many challenges. Standing in their way are any number of foul beasts of the wild… and a company of Orcs out for revenge on Oakenshield.

“The Hobbit” features much more comedy than the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy did. The first book was always a lighter read than the subsequent trilogy, and that tone comes across in the film as well. Between the Dwarves and the introduction of Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), there’s a much higher comedic quotient here… but fans of the original should still be pleased, and have no trouble connecting this to the original franchise. Jackson helps by including a number of cast members from the first trilogy, giving this a strong connective thread. He opens with a flash forward to Bilbo and Frodo (Ian Holm and Elijah Wood), reminding us of where we’ll eventually be, and along the way, works in small parts for Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving. That, combined with Ian McKellen having a prominent role, will be more than enough commonality to make this feel a part of the series as a whole.

The Dwarves are supremely fun (if difficult to keep track of, but hey, there’s 13 of them), and Radagast the Brown makes for a funny, quirky introduction. There are lots of themes of common folk triumphing over evil expressed, as Bilbo is portrayed as the everyman, called upon to do the extraordinary. There’s also tons of action sequences (though a couple threaten to encroach on “overblown” territory) and of course, with Peter Jackson at the helm, you never forget you’re in Middle Earth.

And of course, there’s Gollum.

Andy Serkis’ Gollum, who made an enormous splash in the Lord of the Rings trilogy as one of the first ever CGIed characters in a major film, returns here in triumphant fashion for the Riddle Game scene. I wont go into details beyond that for those who havent read the book, but I will say that the riddle scene – arguably the most famous scene in the novels – is brought to life perfectly onscreen by Serkis, Freeman and Jackson. Fans could not want for more. Serkis’ Gollum is at his psychotic best, and Freeman does a wonderful job of portraying the wide range of emotions that Bilbo goes through in that encounter. Fear, courage, pity, resourcefulness… That scene has always been one of my personal favorites in all of Tolkien’s books, and “The Hobbit” has brought it to life wonderfully.

Though a bit lighter than its predecessors, and lacking some of the gravitas, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is still an incredible fantasy action adventure, and certainly a worthy chapter in the Middle Earth franchise.

A+

A quick note about the 48 frames per second format. I sought out and saw this film in the new 48 frames per second format, and let me tell you, it is discernably and dramatically different. It’s definitely not something slight that you’ll strain to figure out what the difference is. It lends a much more realistic look to the proceedings, especially when things are in motion. Things seem much more fluid, and everything looks crisper. At times, between the 3D and the 48FPS, I felt as if I were watching a play as opposed to a movie. It’s going to draw a lot of criticism, I’m sure… mainly because it is so dramatically noticeable. I was a big fan, though. It struck me as much clearer and a much more realistic than 24 FPS. Almost hyper-real. I’d be happy to see more films following this one’s lead, but… given the backlash the format is experiencing out of the gate, it’s not certain they will.

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102 thoughts on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. Your thoughts echo my own. It’s amazing how far fantasy films have come. Don’t you remember when they were seen as a sub-par film genre? And here Peter Jackson is creating a stunning looking and engaging fantasy film that isn’t just for the D&D nerds.

    Have heard a lot of people saying that the 48fps may be a good thing to do for documentaries, as they seem like they’d be more suited to being “hyper real” as opposed to fantasy films. I do want to see what all the hoopla about 48fps – maybe on repeat viewing.

  2. Myself and the kids loved the movie. I think he added a lot more dynamics between the characters than you got from the book. Kili and Fili are my favorite dwarves since they are always goofing off. I forgot the one with the curled hat, he’s funny as well.

    I saw it in the 2D format but loved the story. It’s interesting to see the expansion of things just slightly mentioned in the Hobbit such as the Necromancer of Greenwood (Mirkwood) and the Azog the pale orc. Plus the history of how the dwarves were driven out of Lonely Mountain was a good touch. I can’t wait to see the play out in the next installment.

    As for the 48fps, we’ll see if it survives. I’ve read a bit on this and people with eyes that have different depth perception between the eyes, not slightly but a good difference will probably experience eye strain, headaches and nausea. People with normal vision or good corrective vision shouldn’t have a problem. I heard one opthamologist say myopic people will have the most problem. Time will tell. I kind of wished I’d seen i tin that format but my wife and one of my kids have trouble with the 3D and have to take the glasses of a couple of times to get through a film.

    • Yeah, I can see that.

      I think that anytime there’s a change in video presentation, there’s going to be people saying people will experience headaches and nausea. LOL, I can imagine people saying that when Color first started. I know they were saying it about 3D (though some people do have problems)

      I think it’s great. Looks sharp and clear and really real. Loved it.

      Glad you and yours dug the film. It’s getting surprisingly mixed reviews. It’s sitting at 65% at Rotten Tomatoes… I never in a million years would have imagined it so low.

      • Probably because of the introduction of the side stories and the slow parts. It really could have been done in one 3 hours film but it would have been a quick story. They did each book in a single film for Lord of the Rings. Either way, I have always loved Tolkien and Jackson is bringing it to life in a way I love.

  3. Pingback: I loved The Hobbit! Now, I am ready for the new adventure… « nediunedited

  4. I loved it!! And trust me, I was worried there for a bit…

    It was wonderful. It felt good to be back in Middle Earth. Familiar and yet, all brand new. So, cool.

    I am with 100% about the favorite scene. Andy Serkis is a genius! The riddle scene gave me goose bumps. Perfect.

    Now, I am ready for the next chapter…can’t wait!

    Later! :)

    • La-ter!

      Saw you posted your review Nedi, I’ll hit it in the morning. ;)

      Meanwhile though, glad you concur. Reviews have been mixed all over the place, but I’ve found more than enough support in this thread to make me think I didnt over estimate it! :D

  5. Pingback: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review | Rorschach Reviews

  6. Looking like I might have to postpone this until January (and hopefully not later) but I’m definitely looking forward to it still, even with the concerns about stretching it into a trilogy.

    Glad to see it gets such high praise from you, and that the 48 fps came across well to you. Have to admit I’m curious about that.

    • Thats a bummer man. I hope you dig on it when you do get around to it. Meanwhile, I’m sure you’ll do your own review, but feel free to swing back with your thoughts then! :D

      I loved the 48fps, but from my trips around the blogosphere, I think Im in the extreme minority. :(

    • Yeah, the 65% on Rotten Tomatoes is killing me on this one too. It’s one thing to call it a let down, or not up to the first three LotR films, but that means that one out of every three critics is saying DON’T see it. Ouch. I don’t get it.

      I’ll try, Ben. Busy time for me around these parts these next few weeks though. :(

  7. It’s nice that, while lighter, Jackson manages to keep the darkness hanging around the edges of the whole film. This is where all of the stuff that leads into Rings really begins, for the most part, and Jackson very effectively lets those grim portents flit about in the background while letting this representation of Middle Earth be more magical, wonderful, hopeful than what we see in Rings.

    At the same time I think a lot of people are struggling with the division between lighter tone and darker foreshadowing. The Hobbit‘s a much lower-stakes story, one that’s a lot less about getting to a destination and seeing a quest through and much more about putting Bilbo out into the world and letting him experience it and react to it; it’s not as plot-oriented as Rings, and I’m not sure many people really understand that. Rings is about destroying the One Ring. The Hobbit is about a quiet, British fuddy-duddy setting foot outside his door and seeing the real world; it’s less about defeating Smaug and reclaiming Erebor (or else it would end that way, rather than with a battle) and more about Bilbo witnessing the travails of life outside the Shire for himself.

    And I loved it for that. Forget about how right it feels to be back in the theater, traveling through Middle Earth during the winter season again (and it does feel SO right), An Unexpected Journey sets the quest out on the right foot. While it takes a whole film for us to get to the quest proper, that time is well-spent establishing character and setting tone; this is an adventure story rather than an epic of martial clashes, an episodic tale of thrills and dancing dwarves and singing and comedy and heart. Taken in that way, it’s a huge success.

    For the 48 FPS– it looks absolutely stunning in places, incredibly awkward in others. Partly I think we’re just not used to movies looking this way, partly I think we’re actually not capable of processing them this way (according to an article on Movieline, we’re capable of seeing over 60 frames per second, but we’re only aware of about 40 of them). I kind of wonder if exposure to this sort of tech might expand our awareness, but that’s neither here nor there. If you’re a real film fan, you’ll seek this out in 48 FPS because it’s new and it needs to be seen.

    Good stuff Fogs. Glad you’re with me on this one!

    • Yeah, I have your review open, I’m going to try to hit it today… things are hectic though. :( Holiday season Hell.

      I haven’t seen your review, so I will speculate we might have a bit of a difference on the tone… that’s one thing I thought he didnt do all that well. The way you describe it IS how it should be. “grim portents flit about in the background while letting this representation of Middle Earth be more magical, wonderful, hopeful than what we see in Rings” I would say it comes across here more like grim portents that occur too often and too prominently, making the tone seem more LotR-esque, while it really should have been Middle Earth being more magical, wonderful, hopeful than what we see in Rings. :D It’s not a huge dispute, but I did think he got a little carried away with the “Grim Portents” and I wonder if he’s going to get heavy handed with that going forward the next two movies…

      The rest I agree on. I LIKE the lighter tone, I think you’re 100% right, its supposed to be like that, this IS Bilbo’s story as opposed to the weight of the world on Frodo’s shoulders.

      I’m glad you’re on board too man. That’s cool.

      As to the 48fps… it’s the first major forray, you know? I’m sure we’ll settle into it if its given a chance. I hope it takes off, I really enjoyed it!

  8. Not seen it yet, but intend to do so soon.
    A little input on the 48fps topic, as a Brit, we get lots of TV dramas that look real, without that US tv sheen/blurring, so I imagine plenty of Brits won’t have any problems with the 48fps leap of faith.
    I’ve just bought the LOTR blu-rays, (extended) and forgot how good it is to re-engage with Middle Earth again, I’m not a LOTR nerd, far from it, I only read the books after seeing the film, and read the Hobbit some 30+years ago at school, but think Jackson did an amazing job, and will more than likely enjoy the Hobbit just as much

    • I’ve been hearing that a lot Nik… So British tv is already using 48 fps you’re saying? Thats cool. Of course critics here are using that against it, saying it looks like a BBC drama… Lol

      I’m betting you’ll like it too. It felt great to be seeing more Middle Earth! :D

  9. With you on this one. Well written review, not much more to add. I did feel it was a bit long but the A+ is well deserved. By the way, saw this in 2D, special affects were great even in 2D.

    • Thats cool to know. I think the 48fps is really interfering with people’s experience of it. Personally I loved it, but I think a lot of people are pretty pissed about it and then taking it out on the film afterwards… :(

  10. If I read your post correctly, you have at least read the Hobbit??? I’m proud of you Fogs! I’m a huge LOTR fan and loved The Hobbit! Thorin was epic! I think Jackson has done a great job pulling things together from Tolkien’s world!!!
    I also played dnd!
    This movie made me one happy geek!

    • LOLLLOLLL… Ok, ok. Heh. I deserved that.

      YESSSSS I have read the Hobbt. Ha. Probably more than once, actually. Same with LotR.

      It has been a long time however, and I dont plan on rereading it in conjunction with the movie. I did that with “Fellowship” and I could NOT stop comparing the book to the movie.

      I played D&D too, and as everyone knows, there’s a lot of reading involved there too. :D

      Glad to hear you loved the movie!

      • Well. I’m pleasantly surprised. I run into more people who have really loved the movies but never read the books. Sad. LOTR is my all time favorite book. I love it and read it every few years, usually in the fall. Glad to know you enjoyed it too! I need to read the Hobbit again, but like you said, I didn’t want to read it too close to the movie.
        I must admit that I had several friends who knew the DnD handbook so well that I never really read it all the way through. If I had a question I just loudly yelled it across the table. :-)

  11. I’m so late on my review of this because of my trip but I’m so glad you’re in my camp on this one Fogs! I decided to do a top 10 list in lieu of a review as I enjoyed it so much. Not sure the critics watched the same movie, ugh, or they’re just getting too jaded to have a good time!

    • They smelled weakness and jumped on it. Keep in mind, a lot of critics feel its their job to be critical. So… if they seem a big name flick with an opportunity to bash it, theyre gonna. 65% on Rotten Tomatoes is one of the most ridiculous scores ever. Complete aberration. :(

  12. The Hobbits’ subtitle is “there and back again”. Well, we haven’t gotten “there” yet, it could be awhile. Mostly I loved it. As a prequel, it didn’t kill the storyline, as so many prequels do. It puts us right back in well loved familiar territory and I kind of missed being there.
    The top critics are having a field day throwing tomatoes, all the while praising Jackson and Serkin et all. Can’t quite figure why except that’s what critics do. The only problem I had was in the riddle game I couldn’t hear half of Gollum’s responses! Over all out of 100, I’d say 89%! Not bad but still 2 more to go! The films will never equal the books but Jacksons’ literary conversion ranks high in movie history.

    • As to the critics, I think a lot of them feel that their job is to criticize, and this film gave them a lot of windows of opportunity, so they hopped on them. It’s long, there’s a lot of stuff that if you were looking to excise things could be taken out… critics are gonna hop all over that.

      It was a huge, fun, action packed fantasy film. Featuring characters we love. So, I was really happy with it.

      • I had no problem hearing and undertanding Gollum. I thought it was very clear. My problem with the riddle game is that they showed it all in one go, making it seem rather short. In the novel, it was much longer. There was a break in it where we jump to the dwarves for a bit and then come back. It then implies that there were a lot of riddles flying and the game was winding down, having taking a significant amount of time, part of the night.

      • Uhhhh… you sure they didn’t so that in the movie, too? I’ll have to rewatch again when it hits on Blu, but I think they had a break between.

        I’ll have to keep an eye out for it.

  13. Really enjoyed this Jackson epic. Surprised that the high water mark is again reached in the fantasy realm given LOTR’s amazing heights. Quite a lot of fun.
    Thorin is solid; Freeman is great as Bilbo. Ready for more.

    • Nice. Good to hear. Love when people swing back and share their thoughts on films, too.

      I hope the series gets stronger as we gain more comfort with it, and stop comparing it as much to LotR. I think things can only pick up once they get closer to the mountain!! :D

    • “so that does make me a curmudgeon?”

      Dude. You’ve been a curmudgeon ever since I’ve known you. LOL! I’ve called you that six or seven times, easily.

      I loved it. I had a blast with it. I recognize it has flaws (namely “bloat”) and I’m well aware of its 65% on Rotten Tomatoes… but I was still a big fan.

      And my stance got enough of a positive reception that I dont count this score/review amongst my “misses”. :)

      I’ll be by soon to check out your skewering though. Even when you’re wrong, you’re funny. LOL :D

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