The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Posted by Maria Mills | Posted on 2:08 PM | Posted in

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.5/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10


"Far over the misty mountains cold. To dungeons deep and caverns old. The pines were roaring on the height. The winds were moaning in the night. The fire was red, it flaming spread; The trees, like torches, blaze with light."

After nine years of witnessing the Fellowship defeat the Dark Lord Sauron, we audience members have carried on with our lives, knowing that Middle Earth is safe once again. Now, we are taken all the way back to the journey not made by Frodo Baggins, but by his Uncle Bilbo -- this is the journey that united Bilbo with the One Ring, that inspired him to write his book: There and Back Again - A Hobbit's Tale. Though the original source material is only one novel, the producers and filmmakers have chosen to make The Hobbit a brand new trilogy. Great.

Fortunately, Peter Jackson is back in the director's chair, and here is the first of the trilogy, the entry where Bilbo starts his unexpected journey with Gandalf the Grey and thirteen dwarves. On a technological basis, The Hobbit is also the first movie of its kind to use 48 frames per second instead of the traditional 24.

Like The Fellowship of the RingAn Unexpected Journey begins with a long prologue, introducing the legendary Dwarf realm of Erebor, the Kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. After an era of prosperity brought unto the kingdom by the Dwarf king Thror, the Mountain was captured by the dragon Smaug. Taking the Dwarves' gold, Smaug drove the entire kingdom's civilians out of their homes. In the present timeline, in the Shire, young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is tricked by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) into hosting a party for thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), Thror's grandson. It is then revealed that Thorin intends to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug and the group is in need of a "burglar," to which Gandalf recommends Bilbo. Though he intially declines, Bilbo inevitably accepts and joins the dwarves' quest to reclaim Erebor once again.

The previous paragraph you just read, the plot summary, literally took about forty-five minutes in the film, which is probably the first flaw I should start with in An Unexpected Journey: The beginning was too slow. In fact, the narrative overall feels stretched, and that is simply because this is the first part of a three-part journey. Unlike all three Lord of the Rings movies, An Unexpected Journey is the first where its running time began to bug me halfway in -- too many things happen, since there is more than one plotline in this movie. In addition, the film constantly flirt at things that we have already seen before. Wargs? Seen it already. Weathertop? Seen it. Rivendell? Seen it. Sure, the fans are not going to mind and personally, the revisits were not that big of a deal either. Even though we have seen it all before, it is in fact Middle-Earth and... well it's Middle-Earth.

Without a doubt, the film had many epic sequences and moments that can rank up with the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Andy Serkis delivers once again as Gollum, who for us is revived on screen. Gollum's scene with Bilbo is arguably one of the best moments in this installment. And best of all, there are moments where we hear the memorable music melodies that we have heard from the original trilogy. In addition to that, there is a new theme song in this film, and I have a sense that it will run throughout the rest of the Hobbit trilogy. However, epic sequences are not the only thing that supplied The Hobbit. Regrettably, the film is also equipped with tedious moments, scenes where conversations get dragged and nothing interesting happens. Furthermore, there were approximately three moments where I thought the film was going to end and I was misled.

In terms of new characters, The Hobbit is acceptably mediocre, mostly because we already know many characters in the movie. Lord Elrond reappears, Galadriel reappears, and even Saruman the White is back, and probably not evil yet? Mainly the new characters we meet are the dwarves, but do not get me started on which dwarf is who. All I recognize are three: Thorin is the new Aragorn, Balin is Gimli's cousin, and Gloin is Gimli's father. Here, it is not that each dwarf in the group is a character. Instead, it is more like the entire group represents one character.

I have always expressed my admiration in Gandalf as the best wizard character in the fantasy genre and as one of my favorite supporting characters in epics like Lord of the Rings. However, for some reason here in The Hobbit, there's nothing special about the grey wizard. No personality development. No explanation on what kind of a character he is in the first act. He just appears to Bilbo one day and that's it, as if the filmmakers said, "We don't need to explain who he is because the audience already knows who he is." Problem is, this story came *before* the films the audience has seen. Furthermore, there seems to be no chemistry between Gandalf and Bilbo, unlike Gandalf and Frodo in the Rings trilogy. Gandalf may wield a staff, but unfortunately Ian McKellan was unable to translate his character's magic well enough this time.

Enjoyably, Martin Freeman, most known as Dr. Watson from Sherlock, portrayed a lovable Bilbo, an innocent and pure Hobbit who just loves nothing but his home and the Shire -- uncontaminated and undiluted by the darker realms of Middle-Earth. Without a doubt, Gandalf's words are true. If Bilbo does return home, "[he] will not be the same." In terms of a protagonist with a three-hour long movie to carry on his shoulders, Bilbo performed quite beautifully, but a little shaky at times.

As mentioned earlier, The Hobbit is the first of its kind that introduces 48 frames per second instead of 24. Ever since the invention of cinema, movies are presented at 24 frames per second. Just for a reference, the human eye sees approximately between 20 and 30. From what I heard, The Hobbit in 48 looks like a videogame on the Playstation 3, in which the imagery moves so realistically that it is as if you are really there. As the result, the visual effects looked faker, and the sets looked man-made. Fortunately for me, I viewed the film in classic 24 fps, in the format that all critics say, "carries the cinematic effect that 48 fps loses." Seriously, I do not know a single person or critic who reacted positively to The Hobbit in 48 fps. Oh well.

Surely, An Unexpected Journey is visually state-of-the-art. The visual effects are grand and magnificent, the makeup and costuming is impressive, and the production design is monumental as always. They all give clear signs that Peter Jackson is extravagant as he always is when it comes to directing epics. Cinematically, The Hobbit is splendid lembas bread. Frankly, everything that is wrong with the film is the simple fact that it is too long, and the fact that The Hobbit is stretched into becoming three films. If you want to prolong a single novel into three parts, that is fine by me. However, the decision of making the first part three hours long is another story.

In conclusion, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is another heartfelt return to Middle-Earth by Peter Jackson, and in many ways still carries the immense power that The Lord of the Rings carried. However, the film's mammoth running time, narrative, and pacing constantly makes the film a bit unstable. For sure, the film is faithful to the source material and its themes and acting and filmmaking are all there. The true hardcore Middle-Earth fans will be satisfied. However, An Unexpected Journey is a bit wobbly in terms of the first part of Bilbo's quest, and I hope to God that The Desolation of Smaug will take flight faster and soar longer.

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