In this prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, we follow the young Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman here and Ian Holm in LotR) as he is enticed by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), to embark on a dangerous adventure. The goal is to help a clan of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), reclaim the home of their ancestors. Why does it need reclaiming? Well, dwarves like to mine riches from the earth. Dragons apparently like riches, too. When the wealth of Thorin's granddaddy became well-known, a dragon decided to move in and fricassee anyone who interrupted his enjoyment of his ill-gotten riches.
|Which one of them is the hobbit?|
The acting in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is good, but this isn't really a movie built around individual performances. Martin Freeman plays a wonderful everyman, so casting him as the very suburban Bilbo was a good choice that paid off well. As the audience's POV character, he did a good job being confused and frightened for the audience, and I thought he conveyed his character's emotional journey rather well. Ian McKellen was good as Gandalf the Grey; he's obviously familiar with the part, but I liked that he was a little more temperamental and less wise in this film. Of the dwarves, Richard Armitage was by far the most impressive; it helps that he got to play a bad-ass and didn't have to wear goofy facial prosthetics, but Armitage was awfully good at brooding, too.
|Stott was so good that I almost never laughed at the Cousin It under his nose|
|He's like Jell-O in that way|
The special effects were as stellar as you would expect from this series of films and these filmmakers. It kind of sucks that this movie revisits so many things that we've seen before in Middle-Earth, because it gives a bit of a "been there, seen that" feel to the film. Even with that in mind, the sets --- particularly the ancestral dwarf home --- are all awesome. The CGI was excellent, even in the large battle scenes that clearly didn't have the actual actors fighting in them. I wasn't a big fan of the makeup on the dwarves, though. Too many just looked silly, even if they are faithful to how Tolkien wrote them. It's not a big deal, in the big scheme of things, but it irritated me that there were bad guys who looked dirty and creepy...
|This is actually one of the better-looking dwarves|
I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Peter Jackson's work on The Hobbit. As far as his co-writing credit goes (the script was basically done by him and his partner, Fran Walsh), I was impressed that An Unexpected Journey felt like a complete story. Bilbo and Thorin had decently crafted character arcs, there was a natural ending point, and there was no cliffhanger ending. That's tough to do with source material that originally had only 310 pages --- and keep in mind that two more movies are on their way from that same material. I have no idea what the next two films will contain, but I'm alright with the contents of this one. If you're wondering where the hell Jackson and co. found the rest of the material to pad this story enough to get three movies out of it, that was touched on a bit in this interview Peter Jackson had on The Colbert Report:
As a director, I was a little less pleased with Peter Jackson. The tale was definitely told competently. The movie looked absolutely gorgeous, and the pacing was brisk; while my mind keeps telling me that this story was stretched out, it didn't feel that way when I was watching it. I wasn't a huge fan of the action sequences; without someone awesome to focus on (like Legolas in LotR), I was faced with a bunch of characters I didn't really care much about in situations that didn't seem all that dire. Admittedly, part of that impression is due to the fact that this movie looks so much like the Lord of the Rings movies that it suffers when you compare them by scale --- having fifteen good guys fighting a handful of orcs pales in comparison to the odds faced in LotR. But the problems are not just by comparison. Less than a third of this cast was fleshed out at all, so their survival meant little to me.
|I only cared about the guy who isn't attending a rap-metal show at the Renaissance fair|
|He has a tumor the size of |
|This was the best pic I could find of Azog, the Defiler. I mean "best" in every way possible.|
My biggest complaint with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, though, is with its tone. This story is not as epic as LotR, but it is being presented in the same way. As Stephen Colbert pointed out, Tolkien tried to go back and write an epic version of The Hobbit, but was later convinced that it was a bad idea. It seems odd that the filmmakers would make the same mistake. There's enough grandiosity in Middle-Earth to make this an epic tale, I suppose, but it just doesn't seem like the right fit.
|It troubles Gandalf, too|
I guess the easiest way to sum this movie up is to say that An Unexpected Journey is missing a lot of the charm that I expected to find, going into the movie. That doesn't mean that it is a bad movie, by any means. It's just not what I expected or, really, wanted in a film adaptation of The Hobbit. It is still a good movie and totally worth seeing. There is a lot to like here. In fact, there is just under three hours of movie to like here (and we have six more hours on the way!). It's just not as overwhelmingly, jaw-droppingly fantastic as the Lord of the Rings movies were. I think that is because this feels like a continuation of those films, instead of a new trilogy with its own identity. Hopefully, the sequels will course-correct that a little.
A quick aside on the format of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: I have now seen this film in the standard 24 frames per second and in 3D 48 frames per second. The former was a much better experience for me. The 3D was fine when I saw it on opening night, but the action scenes looked terrible. However, my experience doesn't match up with any of the other complaints I've read online regarding the 48 fps presentation. Instead of looking like a video game, or looking "too real," or looking like the ClearMotion option on a Samsung TV, all the action looked like it was sped up. It felt like I was watching something out of the silent movie era, or at least an action scene from an early James Bond movie. My assumption is that someone played the 48 fps version of the movie at 24 fps (because that's how fast-motion scenes are conveyed in those other examples). If you have a better theory, I'd love to hear it.