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. Good review bud. I didn’t hate the frame rate as much as everybody else out there in the world did, but it is a tad distracting when you really want to focus on it. Still, I enjoyed the movie for the most part and look forward to seeing what they do with these next couple of stories, even if it is a bit excessive. Wouldn’t expect anything less from Jackson of all people.

    • Yeah, that’s definitely true… if it had one major, notable flaw, it was the tendency to go “overboard” with a coupld of things (Surprise, right? Peter Jeckson? Overboard? Noooo…. LOL) :D

      Still, I really enjoyed myself, and like you, man, I cant wait to see what the other movies have in store!

  2. I liked it, but definitly not as much as you. I had problems with the pacing, especially in the first half. I don’t feel it lives up to The Lord of the Rings movies, nor do I think it lives up to the book. Still had a fun time at the movies though.

    • Uhmmmm… Hm.

      To me, yeah, it’s probably the least of the LotR movies to date (which would have all scored A++s), but that doesn’t mean it’s not really really good.

      The tone was the biggest thing to me. In the LotR movies, you had the fate of the world hanging over everything… Here, not so much. They still packed plenty of weight and stakes on to the story though.

      I think the action sequences were a little much too, at times.

      That said, it was great I thought. Been wayyyy too long since I read the book to draw any comparisons. :(

  3. I tend to feel exactly the same as philipchiappini in my thoughts.

    Glad you enjoyed it so much Fogs’! The dwarfs and Gollum were very fun. it’s true. but the pacing just fell flat for me during parts. I was waiting for the adventure to take off.

    Great review

  4. No difference in opinion between us on this one Fogs!!! A++++ all the way from me. The casting was perfect, the landscapes even more beautiful, perfect pacing (I love it when Jackson takes his time), and even though the effects were spotty every now and then, it fit perfectly with the spirit of the book and the style of the previous three films. It was just so damn refreshing to have a lighthearted LOTR movie, wasn’t it?

    What makes me MAD is that I will not get to hear Cumberbatch’s voice until a year from now!!!

    • I think the tone is going to be what throws a lot of people Livi (you’re prepared for the haters, right? LOL). I mean, this was a lot lighter than the LotR movies. And I hope he keeps it that way. I thought it was great! Entertaining, fun, adventurous… and I’m with you, I thought the pacing was fantastic.

      I’m obviously not as impatient for Cumberbatch, though LOL.

      Are you a huge fan of his then I take it?

  5. I actually saw the high frame rate version as well, and it’s officially the first movie I’ve ever walked out on. I went to it purely out of curiosity’s sake, but holy crap, I have NEVER been more distracted during a movie. There was no way I was gonna sit through three hours of that. It’s like the movie was moving in constant fast forward. I found it extremely unnatural looking, and like I said, extremely distracted, which kept me from enjoying a single second of what I saw.

    However, I’ll give The Hobbit a proper chance another time, but my god, I could not stand the high frame rate version! I literally left the theater shaking I was so pissed off by it, and even 30 minutes after the fact my heart was still pounding. I’ve never been so legitimately infuriated by a movie in my entire life.

    That said, it is getting extremely mixed reactions, I just happen to fall far on the opposite side of you, lol. :P

    • :D Holy cow man!

      Well, at the very least, that will support my contention that its vastly and noticeably different from 24fps. LOL. Not something you’re going to go into the theatre and say “I didnt notice anything”, folks!

      The only thing I would argue is I found it to be VERY natural looking… just… far from what we’re used to seeing on a film. I thought motion was much more realistic and sharper… not more phony, say. But it IS a huge difference from what we’re used to, so if you want to say it was jarring and distracting, I could totally see that.

      I think I’m in the minority actually so far Chris, but yeah, I totally dug it.

      • Actually, interestingly enough, this thing seems to be split amongst three crowds. Those it bothers, those it doesn’t, and I’ve also hear probably just as many people claim that they didn’t notice a difference at all. It’s actually almost fascinating in that regard, but I guess you really can’t know how you’re gonna react to it until you see it for yourself!

  6. It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,

    Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.

    It lies behind stars and under hills,

    And empty holes it fills.

    It comes first and follows after,

    Ends life, kills laughter.

    “Dark”

    I hope since Hobbit “est partes tres” Jackson takes the time to delve the incredible language of the book. Tolkien, the Oxford Don, Professor of Anglo-saxon, gave us the finest English of all prose. If Shakespeare wanted to write prose and not iambic, he would have studied Tolkien and been an “Inkling”.
    Looking forward to this Christmas week, annual holiday family film outing!

  7. I’ll be seeing this with a bunch of cinematographers and editors tomorrow night. I’m a little afraid that ALL they’re going to focus on is the 48p, while I’ll be all “YAY BILBO!!” lol.
    Anyway, I’ll report my impressions after.

      • Well, in a nutshell: Loved the movie, disliked the 48p 3D, but it didn’t ruin the movie for me (although I can see how it could for some people. It certainly was distracting.)

        But lets start (as the show did) with the previews. Those were some rock ‘em sock ‘em previews, I must say. Man of Steel, Oz, and Oblivion And the Star Trek Preview topped them all.

        So then the Movie started with the ‘flashback/forward part, and I actually quite liked the clarity of the new format. It wasn’t until we got to the bigger set pieces, ironically the action sequences, when the problems became obvious to me. All the parts that were actually shot, the actors on actual sets were hyper clear, like video, and the created, CGI parts looked … different. Not that the CGI was bad, it wasn’t at all. The CGI characters, especially Gollum, looked fabulous. Its just that they didn’t match well enough, especially during the cuts between the tight shots and the wide shots. Most importantly I didn’t think the messing with a new untried format on a story this big and (to me) too important was a good call at all. It was distracting and took away from the story telling.

        As to the story telling… WOW! Awesome. Loved Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman, and Armitage’s Thorin was regal and heroic and stubborn and perfect! I did not mind at all the additional scenes, especially the grand confab with Galadriel and Saruman and Elrond. And Sylvester McCoy’s Radaghast was an inspired choice. Some of the action scenes, particularly the chase through the Goblin lair with all the collapsing scaffolding, were a bit too much, and perhaps 3 hours cold have been pruned down, but overall that was about as much fun as its possible for THIS little Hobbit boy to have in a movie theater.

      • Nice. Glad you loved it… I mean, that’s how I felt. It wasn’t perfect, by any means (like you mention, that Goblin King portion of the film had some issues, I’m not a huge fan of his character design, either), but overall it was awesome! Super fun and it felt great to be back in Middle Earth.

        I hear you on the CGI integration. There WERE times when the higher frame rate probably didnt help. Yet, I wonder if those spots will stand out in 24 fps too, I mean, a lot of times, CGI looks a little shaky, no matter… Regardless, I thought it was worth it in order to get the HFR throughout the film. I was a huge fan of it, even if it did expose a wrinkle or two along the way. :)

        Glad to hear you love the movie though man!

  8. Loved the movie. Lots of action and the scenery was breathtaking. My only problem with it was that I couldn’t understand what Gollum was saying. He spoke low and slured his words to the point that the riddle squence was wasted on me. I can’t wait till the BD comes out so I can use the subtitles and finally understand everything.

    • YEA! Alright Al!

      Gollum did do a lot of muttering, and I’ll admit I missed a couple of lines, too. Not sure if we were 100% exactly supposed to hear him all the time though, cause he was speaking to himself quite a bit. LOL

      I dont think I missed anything crucial though, thankfully. :D

      Glad to hear you really liked it!

  9. To be honest i’m probably just going to catch this on DVD, but i’m curious to see this 48fps malarky that some people love and some people are walking out on!

    Glad you got what you wanted with this one.

  10. I saw it in 2D. I don’t know the frame rate, I thought the 2D was supposed to be the moral rate, but my normal preferred location was suddenly too close to the screen and I felt a bit overwhelmed at times and slightly dizzy at other times. I did enjoy the film but I think they should have cut away during the riddle scene like the book did. In the book, there is a break and then they come back to the last two riddles, saying how they had gone through a long battle of riddles and they had run out of ones they knew and ones they could think up fast. The movie made it seem like it took place in very little time.

    But I loved the way Radagast the Brown was worked in. I was a bit disappointed in the scene with the trolls. Bilbo really did better in the book than it was portrayed in the film.

    I enjoyed the pacing, but I kept wondering where they were going to put the break in the film. I know they are adding and there is a lot of material from Tolkien himself that can stretch the film into three films. But I don’t see how they can do so with the amount of story left in the Hobbit. I makes me wonder if the second movie finished The Hobbit book and the third installment ties up the new threads that Jackson added from the extraneous material he used and added.

    Mostly, I feel like I really need part two to happen very soon. I think it is because it wasn’t a natural break like the LotR. Each film was a book and it was much like having to wait for books to come out. I’m used to that. I’m not used to starting the Hobbit and suddenly having to wait a while for the next bit.

    • I think Jackson (obviously) is going to do a lot of padding with things that weren’t in the book, proper. He’s going to spend a bunch of time with the Orc enemy (who I’ve heard was culled from the appendices) and this Necromancer (who is obviously supposed to be connected to Sauron), who was never mentioned in the book either.

      Both of which are just quick facts I gleaned from CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/14/showbiz/movies/hobbit-book-movie-vineyard/index.html?hpt=hp_t2 It’s been years since I read The Hobbit, and though I may reread one day, it wont be around the film. I made that mistake before “Fellowship” and vowed never again. My entire first viewing wound up a comparative exercise, and it really annoyed me that I couldn’t stop doing it.

      I do recall that Bilbo did fare a little better with the trolls though. LOL.

      • I could have sworn he spend half the night saying things and making the trolls think that one of the others was the one saying them. So they spent a lot of time fighting each other. It was one of the more comic parts. I had the Lost Tales 1 but never finished it and decided that Lost Tales 2 was not something I would by. I still want to read Silmarilion, but I think I gave it a try once, a long time ago, and had trouble getting into it. All of the extra materials feel like scholarly work rather than readable work.

  11. I’m really interested to see this in the 48 fps format now, I’m curious to see if I enjoy it as much as you did. In any case, I admit I’m fairly tough to please when it comes to my Tolkein, but despite all my gripes I still am very, very glad the film has finally arrived and will probably end up seeing it again in theaters

    • Yeah, man, read your review. You were “fairly tough” lol. For sure.

      Hey, I loved it. I’m not going to make any excuses. It was great to be back in Middle Earth, and Jackson did it right. Were there flaws? Yeah there were a bunch of things I could nitpick (not the biggest fan of the Goblin King’s giant gizzard, for example, or the Stone Giants, even though we had Ents in the last movies) but all in all, that’s a rewarding visit for your ticket cost. Easily one of the best major releases all year long.

  12. Nice review, Fogs. I didn’t like the new characters as much as I did with LOTR, but it is still a very satisfying fantasy/adventure back to Middle Earth. I’m glad to see you loved this. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but some stuff I felt deja-vu-ish. This is all so familiar. But I still can recommend it. I loved the Riddle Scene, Gollum’s my favourite. In the trailer, when Gollum says “Baggins’es?” I just yell: “I’m totally sold!”

    • I dunno. I’d agree that the new villains were nowhere near as good. But I loved the Dwarves, and Radagast the Brown cracked me up!

      I liked the Deja Vu aspect of it. The familiarity is where franchises are! Better than… say Godfather III where you’re like, this is nothing like a Godfather movie, or Star Wars, where they visit 1,000 new worlds and they all stink, you know?

      Thats my take on it at least

      • I enjoyed most of the dwarves, especially the one who was always eating. Radagast was pretty great!

        You’ve got a point there. I haven’t seen The Godfather or the original Star Wars trilogy… Don’t kill me… LOL.

        Still a great film, regardless of its flaws.

  13. Entertaining, a very very good movie. The only negative really is that it doesn’t quite come up to the level of the LotR movies, but then LotR is probably slightly better material for a movie.

    Saw it in 2D, middle of the theater, in what I assume is a normal theater. I didn’t really see any difference.

    • LOL! You funny. :D

      Anyways, I think the major negative (which winds up having minor impact) is that it tried to go all Lord of the Rings at times. It should have kept the “epicness” to a dull roar and just let the story be the story. Its not LotR, and it doesnt need to be.

      Still, I dont think that damaged it. I had a hell of a time, and I think that it’ll fit right in with the others. Hopefully “There and Back Again” and “Whatever they’re Calling the Other One” will be just as good!

  14. Just saw this today and I liked it a hell of a lot more than I expected. It was longer than it needed to be, and the novel certainly shouldn’t be split into three films, but it was surprisingly good fun overall. I ended up seeing it in 48fps, and that made for an especially interesting experience. I’m not entirely sold on the idea but it made the 3D much more manageable, I thought.

    • I really dug the 48fps. LOL. Thats a good way of putting it though “An especially interesting experience”. It sure as hell was. :D VERY new.

      I liked the movie too. I thought it was great. Was it perfect? No… definitely some things to be adjusted. But that’s a hell of a good time at the movies, in my book. And thats what you go for!

  15. Great review, as always. My thoughts were pretty much the same. I really enjoyed the movie, and it was fun to be back in Middle Earth again. :) I saw it once in 3D with higher frame rate, and once in 3D Imax. Haven’t quite decided how I feel about the higher frame rate yet. I didn’t hate it, but it was a little distracting. I’d be curious to see other movies in this style. I especially liked the higher frame rate in the sweeping panoramic shots of the landscape.

    • Well… at least youre not raging against it right off the bat. LOL. I’ve seen some people breaking out the flamethrower, you know?

      Good to see you saw the film twice, at least there’s one other big fan out there, huh? :D Thanks for the support Ash! :D

      • I heard lots of really bad comments about the higher frame rate, so I was expecting the worst. ;) I’d like to see another film at a higher frame rate, now that I know what to expect. It’s definitely an interesting experiment!

  16. Glad you are enthusiastic about this. I was looking forward to this movie for a long time. When I first saw “The Empire Strikes Back”, I thought, “That’s how they should do The Hobbit”. As CGI became widely used, I expected it anytime. I’m still surprised that LOTR got done first, although it sounds like a lot of that had to do with legal issues.

    You mentioned the tone of the film and that is the thing I find interesting about our two points of view. To me, the film keeps striving for the seriousness of LOTR. The flashbacks to the drawves kingdom, the battle for Moria, the Necromancer all of this seems to be done to keep the story telling on the same grand scale as the Trilogy. It all works pretty well but it makes the story less of a fun adventure and more of a legacy project. Others have commentated that the tone is more jocular than the first series, that is true, but it is a lot less breezy than the book of the Hobbit. I would have been happy with a three hour, single film version of the story, but I am enjoying the elaborate work and background that has been put into this.

    I skipped the 3D and the 48 fps on the first two screenings I’ve been to. I did not want the distraction of either to hinder my ability to focus on the movie and the story. Now that I have crossed the threshold, I am willing to try the other versions. When I get a chace to do so, I’ll come back and give you an update on my impressions.

    • Cool man.

      You know, though, even though the lighter tone was evident… Jackson definitely DID try to shoehorn in a lot of that Lord of the Rings epicness and seriousness. I’d have been happier if he let the Hobbit be the Hobbit. It could still be a great movie – a legendary movie – with the fun, lighthearted adventure story tone to it. It didnt need that interjection of “MOST SERIOUS MISSION IN THE WORLD” stuff.

      With Jackson though, I think we’re bound to have that.

      So, the overall tone seen on the whole IS lighter, and there is much more humor… but you are right, Jackson does keep trying to interject the epic, and I had some issues with that too. Not major issues, obviously nothing enough to derail my enjoyment, but I do wish he hadn’t. :(

  17. Great review Fogs!
    Just finishing up the book again (it’s been awhile) and off to see the movie. I’m looking forward to seeing the lightness of the book translated on screen and the 48 fps sounds pretty cool. The 48 fps sounds a lot like the visual that you get from the 3D flatscreen TV so if that is the case it should look pretty awesome. I don’t know if I care for the fact that this is going to be a 3 film ordeal but who are we to argue with the genius of Peter Jackson……I guess.

    • Yeah, I wasn’t really questioning the three film split when I went in, but after seeing it I am a little more. 3 films is one thing. Three three hour films is another. There were definitely plenty of moments here that could have been trimmed.

      The end result is still awesome though. Be prepared for a shocking difference if you go to see 48 fps, though! It is radically different visually! :D

      Hope you enjoy, let us know what you thought once you see it!

  18. Yay! Finally found someone who enjoyed this film even more than I did (and I really loved it). Good point mentioning the interaction between Gollum and Bilbo. That’s always been a favorite part of mine in the book, although there are many.

    • Yeah, isn’t that a good feeling? When you’re finally relieved of that “Uh Oh, Am I the worlds biggest fan of this?” :D I had a rough time when traveleing the blogosphere, seeing so many people shred into it. Heh.

      The riddle game scene is a classic. And here, they did it justice. They did it right. :D

      Thanks for chiming in with your support for the flick Mark!

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