The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
It seems like just yesterday, but it’s been eleven years since Peter Jackson unleashed his vision of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings saga in theaters and now he is back giving us a prequel of sorts: The Hobbit. Taking place decades before the events of Fellowship of the Rings, The Hobbit follows the story of Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) as a young halfling who is recruited by the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) to join him and a group of rowdy dwarves who wish to rescue their home from a giant dragon who has taken up residence there.
There is no doubt that this is an adventure that fantasy-lovers have wanted to take for some time. I remember as a kid watching the old Warner Brothers animated version, never dreaming that a live-action Hobbit could ever become a reality. But then after Jackson released the third Lord of the Rings film, fans started screaming for him to recreate the book that started it all.
So does it live up to the hype? In ways yes, but in other ways it is disappointing.
The good news is that Jackson’s vision delivers a wonderfully written and directed story with the same production values everyone expects. If you’re not familiar with the tale, you might be a little surprised at how playful the movie is, but this is with good intent. Tolkien’s book is much, much lighter than The Lord of the Rings. It is a fun and whimsical journey through middle earth with plenty of danger but also loads of fun.
As you would expect from a project like this, the special effects are magnificent. Looking back at the trilogy, there are many moments that now look kind of fake. Here you can tell that they’ve taken a leap forward in visual effects technology. It looks so perfect that only your common sense tells you its not real.
But that’s also where the movie slips up. Jackson was so thrilled that this would be the first theatrically released film shot and projected in 3D at 48 frames per second instead of the the traditional 24. He has even convinced theater owners worldwide to upgrade their projection systems in order to exhibit the movie in this fashion. I am not an expert in this field and thus I really want to trust the filmmakers and other movie experts about this new technology, but personally I found the image on screen to be unsettling and extremely distracting. The hyper-realism this sort of image capture and projection provides might have greater clarity and smoothness, but to my initial view, it just doesn’t look right on the big screen. It reminds me of the look of a soap opera, a look that doesn’t belong in a movie theater. I’m not trying to sound like a purist. I really like to see progress and want to believe there is something to the technology, but I found myself concentrating more on the strange look of the film and less on the film itself. I feel that I’ve really missed out on a great experience that I’m hoping I can recapture when I try to see the film again in a theater that hasn’t upgraded its equipment yet.
Also a major distraction here is the length. Since Lord of the Rings succeeded as three films, the studio and filmmakers decided to make the Hobbit three as well. When you make three books into three movies, that seems reasonable. Making one book three movies? Not so much. It feels greedy. The pacing wasn’t by any means slow even though the film clocks in at two hours and forty-five minutes, but there does seem to be a lot of overkill here. I’m trying my hardest to reserve judgment about this until I have seen all three films, but I see no evidence early on that this couldn’t have been two big films instead, which I feel would have been a more fan-pleasing scenario. Only time will tell if Jackson’s three-film plan will work. So far he does have a darn good record. A-