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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is a Fantastic Adventure

December 14, 2012

By John C.

The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey PosterEarly in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tells the title character Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) that “all good stories deserve embellishment.”  After bringing J.R.R. Tolkein’s beloved Lord of the Rings trilogy to life with an epic saga that won a total of seventeen Oscars between 2001 and 2003 , director Peter Jackson has taken to adapting the classic prequel to the series.

After much anticipation, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is finally opening in theatres this weekend in a variety of formats including 3D and the new 48 frames per second.  Although we unfortunately won’t get a chance to publish full reviews, I quite liked the film and it only seems appropriate to share my thoughts for opening day.

After a prologue that introduces us to the older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) and his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood), we are transported back to the moment when the adventure starts in the book.  Bilbo is a hobbit of habit, but his simple world and well organized little home is turned upside down when he gets uninvited visitors in the form of Gandalf and a group of thirteen Dwarves led by the fearless Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).  They need his help on a journey to the Lonely Mountain to reclaim the land and treasure that was stolen by the selfishly greedy dragon Smaug, and it’s a brave and terrifying fantasy adventure filled with everything from nasty Goblins to moments of stunning beauty.

What propels The Hobbit forward and makes the story work so well on both the page and screen, is the title hobbit himself, Bilbo Baggins.  He is a true underdog hero who is bound by routine and learns to embrace life once he leaves the comforts of his hobbit hole in Bag End and fearlessly takes the adventure as it comes.  “The world is not in your books and maps,” Gandalf tells him, “it’s out there.”  For me, this provides the heart of the story, hence the “unexpected” part of the title.  Martin Freeman perfectly captures the character’s personality, at once portraying both the anxiety and giddy excitement that were before only described in the writing of J.R.R. Tolkein.

There has been as much talk about the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as there has been about Peter Jackson’s decision to shoot the film in the groundbreaking format of 48 frames per second, doubling the traditional 24.  I saw the film in the higher frame rate and in 3D, and I personally found the technology to work quite well, despite a lot of controversy amongst other moviegoers.  The format does make the outdoor scenes at the beginning of the film look a little too bright, but I certainly didn’t get the sense of motion sickness that some people have worried about.  We can tell that the action is moving physically faster than it does in other films, but it also provides a beautiful smoothness to the motion in the fights and battle scenes that in some ways makes them easier to follow.

With a mildly overlong running time of 169 minutes, the middle section of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a little slow moving.  But the last hour of the film is spectacular, and the famous Riddles in the Dark sequence from the book has been beautifully brought to life.  The motion capture animation of Gollum (Andy Serkis) is stunning, and the filmmakers have nailed both the atmospheric and ultimately sympathetic tone of this integral scene.  The final battle that closes the film on a true cliffhanger note is a thrilling and visually captivating sequence that makes full use of the technological advancements.  The 3D adds yet another sense of depth.

The entire production design of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is flawless, with the set designs, backgrounds and special effects literally transporting us to Middle Earth.  Every scene of the film is visually breathtaking as another world is created before our eyes, just like it was in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy.  The musical score by Howard Shore is just beautiful, and he continues to prove exactly why his music was the one element that unanimously won Oscars for the first three films.  The melody that he has put behind the “Misty Mountains” song we all know from the book is a haunting tune that becomes a recurring theme throughout the film, and it truly comes alive when we first hear the words sung by the Dwarves.

Although some of the reviews for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey have been unfortunately mixed, you can count me squarely amongst the many fans of the film.  With beautiful visuals that once again transport us to the world of Middle Earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fantastic adventure that stays true to the spirit of the beloved source material while setting the stage and building anticipation for the next two instalments.

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