Movie Review: ‘The Hobbit – an Unexpected Journey’ [Video]

NEW YORK | Monday, December 10th, 2012 2:25am EDT

Peter Jackson brings brio and fun to Tolkien tale, but use of HFR technology and sheer length of opener may test non-believers.

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“Unexpected” is right, for a couple of reasons. Peter Jackson, the man who brought Lord Of The Rings to the big screen to eardrum-shattering acclaim 10 years ago, is now taking just the same approach to Tolkien’s much slighter, slimmer children’s book The Hobbit. It’s getting expanded into three movie episodes of which this whoppingly long film is the opener.

So Tolkien’s small children tale is going to be a triple box-office bonanza, occupying the same amount of space as the mighty Rings epic.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is stuffed with Hollywood’s latest technology – 3-D, high-speed projection and Dolby’s Atmos surround sound system. The result is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days.

The stuffing is required because Jackson and Warner Bros have divided Tolkien’s fairly short story into three incredibly long films, which will mean vastly inflated box office revenues at the small cost of artistic worth and entertainment.

Jackson has chosen to shoot the film at 48 frames per second rather than the industry standard of 24. The intention is to make the digital special effects and the landscape shots look smoother. Unfortunately that extra visual detail gives the entire film a little sickly look of fakeness.

This may be cinema’s future, and the results undoubtedly will improve over time.

The first 20 minutes or so are the roughest in the film, making it clear upfront just how poorly action sequences of any scale at all are served by the controversial 48fps format.

The movie tells a story of mild-mannered Bilbo (Martin Freeman) 60 years before the “Rings”. He’s recruited by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into aiding a tribe of dwarves, led by Armitage’s Thorin, in their attempt to win back their ancestral mountain from a fire-breathing dragon named Smaug.

There can be no doubt that Jackson has made The Hobbit with brio and fun, and Martin Freeman is just right as Bilbo Baggins: he plays it with understatement and charm.

Gandalf the Grey is back in action, and it’s a treat to have him return. Sir Ian McKellen is clearly enjoying every moment, and if Bilbo is the heart of the movie, then Gandalf is the soul, the Den of geek writes.

The dwarves too are expanded upon. Not just called upon to be the comedy relief of Gimli, they get a back-story and a depth.

While it’s hard to keep track of who’s who in the twelve of them, they each get their own little moment to shine, and prove to be a far more riotous bunch of travelling companions than the Fellowship. There’s much more of a sense of fun about them too, even with Richard Armitage’s Thorin glowering every chance he can get.

Emotionally rewarding, imaginatively detailed and made with a genuine sense of joy, the first Hobbit chapter succeeds despite its structural and formatting mis-steps. Watch it in good old 2D, and in good old 24fps – all the better to enjoy Jackson’s painstakingly crafted world and Freeman’s winning, heartfelt lead turn.

To cut a long story short, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a nice movie which can transport you to another place entirely, provided you don’t see it in HFR.

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