"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Running time: 169 minutes

And so we draw 2012 to a close with easily one of the biggest film releases of the year! Yes folks, Peter Jackson has returned to Middle-Earth once more with a new trilogy of The Hobbit, beginning with this first part: An Unexpected Journey.  This was an interesting film to review, particularly because I saw the film in the new, crazy format of HFR-3D (High Frame Rate 3D film) and it was a very…different experience. More on that later, but let’s get on with the show!

Now Showing this week is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson. Taking place sixty years before the events of Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit tells the story of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Frodo’s uncle) and his first real adventure away from the Shire. Bilbo is convinced by the wizard Gandalf the Grey to join a company of thirteen dwarves who are off to reclaim their mountain homeland from a gold hungry dragon named Smaug. The dwarves need a “burglar” and Gandalf believes that a Hobbit would make the perfect candidate due to their small stature. So Bilbo sets off with Gandalf and the company of dwarves on a journey of self discovery and lots and lots of walking. LOTS.

First things first, The Hobbit is most definitely a true cinematic return to the realm of Lord of the Rings. The look and feel of the original trilogy is all there, from the vast grey mountain ranges to the beautiful fields of the Shire. All the familiar locations have been recreated exactly how we remember them, including Bag End, Rivendell and even the Weather Top ruins. Peter Jackson has nailed this aspect of the film, and it is definitely an important one for a prequel. It has to feel like it belongs in the same world as the originals and The Hobbit most certainly does.

But while The Hobbit is an enjoyable return to Middle-Earth, with the battle scenes, the epic feel of the quest being undertaken and the majestic nature of the characters and the landscape; The Hobbit is not without its flaws. Flaws that take the film down from the peg of greatness, which disappoints me greatly. Please don’t misunderstand me, I really enjoyed the film, but I just wasn’t as taken by The Hobbit as I was with Lord of the Rings and for the following reasons.

To start off: the dwarves. There are thirteen of them, and it just feels like way too many. Only three of them really say or do anything that is actually relevant to the overall narrative, and the rest of them are just such nothing characters. Even though they’re all named at the beginning, I couldn’t tell which one was which outside of Thorin (their tough as nails leader), Balin (the wise councilman) and Bofur (relatable everyman to Bilbo). The rest of them were all just variations on fat, cliched vikings; talking of ale and food and having physics defying beards! I didn’t care about any of the dwarves outside of the three I named because they just aren’t developed and aren’t even barely established, and when you’ve decided to change from two three hour movies to three three hour movies, skimping on the character development is not ok. Maybe they will become more like characters in the later films, but here in the beginning they just come across as filler. And couple ten filler characters with some superfluous (but very amazing!) encounters with some rock giants and you’ve got a lot of filler for a story that is believed to be in need of extension.

Secondly, the story has some plot holes in it, specifically one involving those damn eagles! Yes, Lord of the Rings had an eagle related plot hole as well, but the eagle moment in Lord of the Rings is in the book and is therefore J.R.R. Tolkien’s fault. But the moment I am referring to in The Hobbit was changed by the filmmakers to include Gandalf summoning them which he did not do in the book, so they basically created a plot hole for themselves. I can’t go into too much detail without spoiling it, but when you have a story already written for you and is, essentially, plot hole free you don’t go adding them! You’re work is done for you, just follow the story! Yes you can play around with the story a little, it is after all an adaptation rather than a translation, but the original story had a different way out of that scenario that would have worked just fine. It just came across as a call back to Lord of the Rings in a weird form of self referencing. They did that a few times actually, and you’ll know them when you see them!

And lastly, I come to the HFR-3D. This won’t apply to those who saw the film in the standard frame rate, so I apologise if this isn’t relevant to you. I won’t bore you all by explaining what movie frame rates are, if you want a concise account here‘s the Wikipedia page. What the higher frame rate does to the film is make the image appear to be much smoother than we are originally accustomed to, which in theory should make events appear more lifelike. The movie was filmed at forty-eight frames per second (fps), which is double the industry standard of the last century. The best way to describe the feeling of watching a higher frame rate film, for me at least, is to ask if you’ve ever noticed the difference between watching a movie at the cinema and watching a movie you filmed at home on a digi-cam? Have you noticed that the latter one looks a lot less clear (because of the camera quality) but everything seems smoother and more real? Well The Hobbit looks like that except still maintaining the quality of a proper camera and for the most part it works. I disagree with all the other critics that say the HFR made sets and props look so real that they looked like exactly what they were: sets and props. To me, all that stuff looked perfect. What got to me was that when things started moving quickly (in say fight scenes, chase scenes or fast panning scenery shots) it all looked like the movie was being sped up. But when things were moving slowly or characters were just talking to each other, the higher frame rate looked amazing. There is a particular scene with some trolls that looked so real they could have actually been on set with the actors, it was fantastic. But I must say, proper lastly this time, the 3D was not good. Yes it was clearer than most, but it still looked like cardboard cutouts moving around a backdrop sometimes and that just looks terrible. I just wish we could stop with the whole 3D films thing already; HFR is fine, it could be worked on to have amazing looking films, but 3D is just not going anywhere. Pack it in people, move on!

But like said earlier, I still enjoyed The Hobbit. The epic quest, the interesting central characters and the tense build up (that will span more films!) to the encounter with the dragon were all wonderful. Acting wise, again amongst the actual characters, was excellent. Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is loveable and courageous, Sir Ian McKellan’s Gandalf is as awesome as always and I loved Thorin, played by Richard Armitage. He was the one dwarf who had an interesting back story behind him, and was driven with such rage that was channeled into his badass nature, alone with his love and loyalty to his fellow dwarves. The Hobbit definitely was an amazing experience, and it can pretty much be said that no one else does “epic” cinema quite like Peter Jackson.

See you next time!


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