The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis
In UK Cinemas December 13, 2012

by Joanna Orland

The first film in The Hobbit trilogy sees director Peter Jackson visit his vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth as he created it in his Lord of the Rings epic over a decade ago. Fans of Jackon’s original trilogy will rejoice in the fact that these beloved characters and world are back on the big screen in an all new adventure. The action is packed, the visual effects are stunning, and, well, Gollum is back and better than ever. Where Lord of the Rings had strength in its story as well as its visuals, The Hobbit focuses more on the visuals and Middle Earth’s quirky characters rather than having a greater purpose or narrative drive. The Hobbit is evidence of why Lord of the Rings was made first, in order to gain an audience, as I am not convinced that newcomers to Tolkien / Jackson would at all appreciate The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as a film in its own right.

Its first major flaw, or perhaps its unique appeal, is the HFR format in which Peter Jackson filmed the movie. At 48 Frames Per Second (double to the usual 24), and in 3D, the audience’s brains were struggling to keep up. While upon first glance when the Warner Bros. WB logo appeared on screen in 3D, the audience actually “oohed”. But when the film itself began, it almost looked as though the film was playing back at double speed. And at times, it looked cheap. Where the original Lord of the Rings was cinematic in its visuals, this was almost like watching an immersive television show. The benefit of this was that the audience at times felt part of the action as though they were literally sitting in Middle Earth, observing the action unfold before their very eyes. The flaw of this was that at times it looked like an episode of Eastenders. Sometimes we want to go to the cinema to escape in fantasy, and to see a masterful work of art – not to see something realistic and flawed. It was as though this was a Middle Earth documentary rather than a film. Is this a new ITV reality show entitled The Only Way Is Erebor? Personally, I prefer the original trilogy’s 2D cinematic quality.

In addition to the marmite appeal of this new “revolutionary” digital format, the film itself will divide its audience and critics alike. I personally loved the adventure, visuals, casting, references to the original trilogy, the battles, the effects, the sound, the nostalgia, and nearly everything about the film bar the HFR. The comedy and characters are a lot lighter and cheesier than the original trilogy, even with Gollum getting some comic relief laughs at his mere appearance in the film.

The characters are key to the story, and each character gets enough screen time to get a proper introduction to the audience. Especially the dwarves as the extended opening to the film introduces all thirteen of them one by one, in an epic introduction that seems longer than the rest of the film put together. Classic characters have their cameos including Elijah Wood as Frodo, Ian Holm as the older Bilbo, Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf (The Grey), Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Bret McKenzie (FOTC) as some elf guy, and of course the show stealing Andy Serkis as Gollum. The film is worth seeing for the Gollum / Bilbo scenes alone. These scenes are the perfect balance of tension, drama, characterization, effects, laughs and lovability.

The new cast of characters is equally enthralling including Middle Earth’s fittest dwarf, Kili, played by Being Human’s Aidan Turner (phwoar), James Nesbitt as Bofur, Barry Humphries (yes, DAME EDNA) as the Goblin King, and I cannot wait to see Benedict Cumberbatch as the Necromancer. Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins is a revelation. He plays the part with such ease that you almost forget he’s new to Middle Earth. He is a joy to watch in this role. And again, I cannot stress enough how wonderful his scenes with Andy Serkis as Gollum are to see unfold. Let’s hope that Gollum returns in the second and third installments as I cannot imagine this film being worthwhile without him.

This film will scare children, thrill adults, delight fans, and perhaps help a new frame rate sink or swim. Love it or hate it, there is no doubt about it – this is the film of the year. It must be seen to be believed. Is HFR (High Frame Rate) and its 48fps the next breakthrough in film technology? Or is it a flash in the pan that will date The Hobbit trilogy 5 years from now? We have yet to find out, but in the meantime, I am enjoying the experiment.

One Response to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

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