Movie Review: The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey 3D [2012] ****

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December 13, 2012 by bck1402

hobbit_an_unexpected_journeyStars Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage and really a lot more with special appearances by familiar faces

Directed by Peter Jackson

NB: The cinema I frequent only had the standard film version and Digital 3D version. Not the HFR (48 fps) 3D, which I would love to check out but am not willing to travel to KL just for that. If the movie is filmed in 3D with the proper cameras, I’m more than likely to choose that version. Not always tho. If they had brought the HFR 3D to Penang, I would have chosen that since it is the director’s preferred version.
Also – I never did read the book, and barely got through half the graphic novel, so my approach would be purely from the cinematic standpoint.

As I was watching the movie, I did wonder… If they had made The Hobbit first, before they made The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, would The Hobbit still have been split into three movies? The Lord Of The Rings is three books, adapted into three movies, but The Hobbit is one book, being split across three movies. And in watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, there is sense that they are laying the groundwork that would lead into the events of The Lord Of The Rings. Something that probably wouldn’t have been considered if the previous three movies hadn’t been made. I think it would be safe to also say that when J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, the Rings saga was barely conceived, so The Hobbit, as is, wouldn’t need three movies.

While the books were by Tolkien, the cinematic saga is now, for better or worse, of Peter Jackson’s vision. Along with his writers and co-producers, they are creating a whole tapestry in which these stories take place, and they are trying to make it a little more cohesive. While the effects and make-up work are impressive here, it really does feel like all this will lead very nicely into his The Lord Of The Rings cinematic saga (unlike say, the Star Wars prequel of episodes I, II and III leading into the classic trilogy of episodes IV, V and VI, which feel so far apart). Despite the years that have separated both trilogies, the make up on the actors, and their performances – specifically the returning stars, Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Ian Holm (old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo) and Christopher Lee (Saruman) – do have a sense of continuity. The actors are much older, but their characters are far younger than from when we know them.

The tone of the story is meant to be lighter, and that is reflected throughout the movie as well, there’s less of a sense of dread that permeated through The Lord Of The Rings. The feeling of an adventure being had is played up with Bilbo (Martin Freeman) having to prove himself to the distrusting Thorin (Richard Armitage) on numerous occasion. Ultimately, tho, it is still a bunch of little people being led by a tall wizard across some beautiful landscape towards a mountain (which is how some people viewed the previous trilogy). The pace is punctuated with some action set-pieces tho, with the last third of the movie practically zipping by that I barely felt the extensive running time (10-17 minutes shy of three hours, depending if you bother to sit through the credits like I do).

Armitage is a sullen Thorin Oakenshield, but he reflects the weight of his character’s legacy and responsibilities very well. He gives a very engaging performance ably supported by the rest of the dwarf cast (the early gathering in Bilbo’s home being a rather enjoyable introduction to the many many characters), with Ken Stott (Balin) being a particular standout as the wizened adviser and keeper of tales. How other viewers would accept the portrayals of the dwarves might really depend on how they have thought of them from reading the book. Or if their only perception of Dwarves in Middle Earth rests solely on Gimli. The thirteen dwarves are an odd bunch, and each of them do have their own personalities (and skills, in some cases) on display.

However, the movie does rest mostly on the shoulders of Martin Freeman as Bilbo. Freeman delivers a performance of a lifetime, quite unlike anything he’s ever done before while keeping in spirit to Ian Holm’s previous performance. The movie does start almost at the same point as The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring started where Bilbo is concerned (hence Frodo’s appearance), and the transition from Holm’s Bilbo to Freeman’s Bilbo is very seamlessly elegant. It is very much an adventure of self-discovery for Bilbo and Freeman pulls off several poignant scenes, particularly in dealing with Gollum.

There is a lot to love about the movie and it is near perfect in terms of production values. Much of the sweeping photography that features in the original trilogy is also on show here, but enhanced very beautifully by the 3D presentation (and this is just the standard digital 3D, not the HFR 3D or Imax 3D). There is such a depth to the world on display; from the prologue in Erebor, to Hobbiton, the various forests, Rivendell, the underground Goblin City is particularly impressive as is the Rock Giants sequence, and even the quiet of the underground cavern where Bilbo and Gollum riddle things out. The cinematography is gorgeous, stepping up from the previous films and yet remaining constant in terms of presenting the world of Middle Earth. It truly is like opening a window and peering into this strange and wondrous land. Howard Shore also returns with certain themes being reduced to mere motifs as if to (again) build up to the Rings trilogy.

Acknowledging that this is just the first of three movies, it is still remarkable that the presentation does just enough to keep a viewer satisfied with what transpires on screen (without dragging too much) and ends whetting our appetites with the promise of more to come. The last third does feel like it’s almost too much happening with all the action, but it actually feels organic and cohesive, and it puts the characters in a very good place to move on to the next part. A sense of resolution, if you will, even if its a small one. Those who know the book know what’s coming next (as reflected in the title, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug). Still, it’s a year away…

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