High fantasy seems to be a difficult genre to exploit in Hollywood and only a few films are worth mentioning in that niche category: Conan the Barbarian, Excalibur, The Princess Bride, Willow, The Dark Crystal and of course, The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Based on the book The Hobbit (or Bilbo The Hobbit) by J.R.R. Tolkien, the story of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Hobbit), takes place 60 years before Frodo’s departure from the Shire in the LotR trilogy of films and for any lover of high fantasy, it is pure joy.
Concerning The Hobbit.
Purists be damned, I loved this film! Despite the many additions and the length of the movie, Hobbit is a great roller coaster ride. It takes about thirty minutes to reach its stride, after that it’s a constant series of ups and downs between action scenes and character development sequences, until the very end when we are served a very nice helping of magic and swashbuckling swordfights in an exceptional escape sequence reminiscent of the best pursuits of the Indiana Jones films… minus the monkeys.
The structure of Hobbit is almost the same as The Fellowship of the Ring. It begins in the Shire with Gandalf presenting the Hero with an adventure, all the way to the end when the heroes look upon what is left of their journey from atop a hill, towards the peak of the Lonely Mountain. Even the halfway point is in Rivendell, where a council is convened.
The story of The Hobbit is a mere three hundred pages, but Peter Jackson and his team have incorporated many elements from Tolkien’s appendices to add length and meat to the tale. Many will use these tidbits to criticize the work in a negative way, however it is also interesting to witness how Hobbit links to LotR and how the lore is presented to the viewer. It almost seems as though Jackson has purposefully tried to tell most of what is to tell about Tolkien’s universe in his new trilogy. Personally, I hope this is the case.
The desolation of technology
Movie goers have the option of watching Hobbit in the normal 24 frames per second, or in 48 frames per second (plus the usual assortment of Ds, screen sizes and powered seating options). I have seen Hobbit twice in 24 FPS, but it is said that the other speed makes the film look like a cheap wedding video, less lifelike. The fact is this is the opposite, as the human eye actually functions at 60 FPS, and 48 FPS is simply closer to reality. Being unaccustomed to this may generate much flak for an otherwise flawless visual execution. If the viewer doesn’t want to pay that extra 5-10$ on extra tech though, the 24 FPS format still looks amazing!
The same visual effects as to the size of the characters are back and better than ever. Where there were some anomalies in Fellowship, Jackson’s team has mastered this technique and it is seamless on screen; although Bilbo should be much smaller standing next to a dwarf…
It is also worth noting that much like the first trilogy, the effects here serve the story, not the other way around. Even the all-CGI creatures Azog (Manu Bennett) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) are flawlessly created and the strings are nowhere to be seen. Very impressive.
The Company of Old Friends and New
As usual, Sir Ian McKellen takes the cake. This Gandalf is slightly more joyous and mischievous, specifically when it comes to his intimate relationship with a certain Elf. All thirteen dwarves get decent exposure without stomping over each other’s toes, all the while leaving enough screen time for Thorin, Balïn, Gandalf and… Bilbo.
Martin Freeman was a stroke of casting genius. At times oblivious, at others sensitive and always a Took, Bilbo is a great character expertly personified by Freeman, who even looks the part. We only wish this first volume of the trilogy would be more centered on him instead of the dwarves, specifically Thorin.
In the book, Thorin Oakenshield is a jerk. This trait is apparent in Hobbit, but it is tempered by a sense of loyalty and honour, and the fact that he is a great warrior and leader. He doesn’t think much of Bilbo at first, but this changes during the course of the journey. His quest is the motivation for the company, a quest to reclaim their home from Smaug (pronounced Sma-ôg), a fire drake from the north.
All the other dwarves bring various types of comical relief and we can only hope each will get their turn in the spotlight. They already have distinct personalities and roles within the company but the focus of Hobbit is mainly on Thorin and Bilbo.
There and back again, next year.
So far, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has more of a magical and adventurous feel to it than the LotR trilogy, after all this story is not about a couple of midgets walking towards a mountain for twelve hours. There is more happening; the series of events is more focused, there are more characters who each get their turn at shining, for the most part.
Some additions to the original story sometimes feel out of place or tacked on, but taken by themselves are always interesting and add to the lore of this world that anyone who hasn’t read the books may be curious about.
The effects are flawless, the acting is much better and the new set of tunes from Howard Shore help drive the story home as much as his previous score for Jackson did.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lacks the emotional impact of The Fellowship of the Ring, but its many strong points outweigh its few flaws and any fan of Peter Jackson’s previous trilogy should enjoy this immensely. I know I did.
See you all again in Middle-Earth… next December.9.5/10