Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson’s Lord of The Rings trilogy was an epic that imprinted itself on the minds on a generation. Not only was it critically acclaimed, it made a boatload of money for everyone involved. With all the money made from the three movies, it’s no surprise when Hollywood decided to film The Hobbit.

The story of The Hobbit is that of Frodo’s uncle, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who was half-coerced/half-tricked into taking part in a quest proposed by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The quest involved accompanying thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on a quest across Middle-earth to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon.

Set up as the team's "burglar", the peace-loving Bilbo now has to deal with unruly, unkempt dwarves; hobbit/dwarf eating trolls; escaping from orcs and goblins; and a dangerous but delightful riddling contest against Gollum (Andy Serkis). All on a journey to meet, defeat and kill a fire-breathing dragon that had once defeated an entire kingdom.

No wonder the hobbit fainted before the journey even began!

Now first off; No, this is not a prequel! JRR Tolkien wrote The Hobbit first before the Lord of The Rings trilogy so The Hobbit is not a prequel; The Lord of The Rings is the sequel. I know some people think this is nitpicking but please get this right.

Second; you need to watch this with an open mind, especially of you had read the book. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a new trilogy of movies based on JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I said “based on” because well…The Hobbit is a pretty small children book but somehow Peter Jackson intends to make three films out of it, each presumably close to three hours long. So I walked into the theatre with an open mind, and that make a lot of difference.

Third; Expectations are a double-edged sword. People expect a lot out of the movie, out of the whole Hobbit trilogy. Given how good the Lord of The Rings trilogy was, that’s understandable but frankly if you don’t lower your expectations, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. That’s not to say The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a bad movie. In fact, I found it to be a charming, spectacular, and exciting film. Once the party got going and they left the Shire, the movie was every bit as good as anything found in the first trilogy. However it’s a different story, so I feel you need to take The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as a movie on its own, not as a continuation or a prequel of the Lord of The Rings trilogy.

If you can do that, you are going to enjoy the movie.

The film is anchored by excellent performances from Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen and having Peter Jackson back (along with a whole bunch of familiar cameos) does give the movie a sense of familiarity that works in the movie’s favor. I especially enjoy the scene where Gandalf speak with the White Council; Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman the White (Christopher Lee). I always thought the Lord of The Rings trilogy never truly showed how powerful the Council truly was, it was something that has been rectified in this movie. You can truly get a sense of the power of Galadriel when everyone on the Council deferred to her in one way or another.

Also working in the movie’s favor is the humor of the movie. Adapted from a children book, An Unexpected Journey is more light-hearted than Lord of The Rings and the humor shines through. After the at-times-too-serious Lord of The Rings trilogy, this change in mood was more than welcomed.

Also welcomed was the total absolute lack of humans in the movie! There’s elves, dwarves, hobbits, trolls, orcs, goblins, giants but no humans! If you want to be technical, you can say there’re 3 wizards in the movie but in Middle-earth, they are not really considered humans. To me, this prove that Peter Jackson truly believe in the story of The Hobbit.

Now there’s some debate about Jackson using the highly controversial High Frame Rate, a motion picture format that use a higher projection frame rate than the industry standard of 24 frames per second. Personally, I don’t quite get it and I don’t know how much of a difference it made but I will say An Unexpected Journey is a very good-looking movie. There were some majestic shots of the scenery and even Rivendell look much better.

Of course some things didn’t works out so well for the movie. Many critics have blasted Jackson for being excessive and I could understand why. At 169mins, the movie was about 30mins too long. It took over 20mins before the party even left the Shire which I thought was a little too much. There was no reason for the dwarves to indulgent in 2 songs or for the long scene between Frodo and Bilbo.

Also anyone who read The Hobbit knows that there was almost no way you could get 3 films out of the book. So it’s no surprise that Jackson added a lot of stuff into the movie. Some scenes like the aforementioned White Council meeting works, others did not. One of the things that did not work was the escape from the goblin city. My friend say it remind him too much of the escape from Moria by the Fellowship (which is true), and to me it felt kind of tack-on. Looking at it, I can’t help but think that it’s there because Jackson needed a big action sequence to satisfy the action fans.

However like I said earlier, I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be a charming, spectacular, and exciting film. It is a good movie that could stand on its own and a good additional to the Lord of The Rings trilogy. Watch it for a fine return to the great world of Middle-earth! 

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