>> The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

Director: Peter Jackson

Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures

Runtime: 170 minutes

In Theatres: December 14, 2012

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Rating: 3.80 (out of 4.00)

Grade: A-

Official Site

Peter Jackson once again takes audiences to Middle-earth in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, only this time around it’s a Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who sets out in search of an adventure and not Frodo.

Set 60 years before the events in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Bilbo joins Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and 13 dwarf warriors as they set out to reclaim their home/treasure within the Lonely Mountain from the fierce dragon Smaug.  While it’s not as epic as Frodo taking the One Ring to the fires of Mount Doom, The Hobbit sets the scene for the events to come.

The film opens with an exposition detailing the arrival of Smaug and war between the orcs and dwarves that drove them from their home and the vast amount of treasure within it. It’s a rather lengthy prologue, retold by Bilbo (Ian Holm) as he prepares for his 111th birthday. It’s here were we see a brief scene with Frodo (Elijah Woods) that ties the two trilogies together. Yes, The Hobbit is being broken into its own trilogy, with An Unexpected Journey chronicling the first leg of the group’s journey to the Lonely Mountain.

Led by Gandalf and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) the inexperienced Bilbo will encounter monstrous trolls in the forest, nasty goblins deep within the Misty Mountains, are constantly being hunted by Azog, the pale orc who is responsible for the death of Thorin’s father, King Thrór. It’s also in the Misty Mountains where Bilbo discovers Gollum (Andy Serkis) and finds the One Ring.

Despite its near three hour running time, though, there isn’t much opportunity to get to know the personalities of the other dwarves.  There are 13 of them in total and for the most part, they all sort of run together. Hopefully their characters can be fleshed out further in the upcoming installments.

Towards the middle of the film, Bilbo finds himself lost in the dark caverns of the mountains and convinces Gollum to lead him out if he can win against him in a game of riddles. Gollum, who has already become obsessed with his Precious aims to eat the hobbit should Bilbo lose. The entire scene between the two is absolutely fantastic and worth the price of admission alone.

Andy Serkis once again brings Gollum to live, not only in voice but also through motion capture. The split personas of Gollum are evident as well, no doubt by the power the ring holds over him. It’s almost as if there are three characters on screen. Serkis manages to convey a whole range of emotion with Gollum. One second he’s fearful and almost puppy-like while the next moment he’s the one putting the fear into Bilbo. The scene is especially important, knowing full well the impact it has on the rest of the franchise. It’s a shame that this will be the only time we get to see Gollum during The Hobbit trilogy, though.

An Unexpected Journey features some of the most breathtaking visuals cinema has to offer. Peter Jackson captures the beautiful vistas found across New Zealand, and whenever there’s an opportunity to pan the camera wide, he does so. Another helping hand in that fact is that the film was filmed in High Frame Rate 3D (HFR).

The HFR format records video at 48 frames per second, double the frame speed of your usual film, and The Hobbit is the first of its kind to do so. This increase in frames reduces the amount of motion blur and provides a cleaner and sharper image. Some have compared it to watching a soap opera. Personally, I love the new format as it enhances the viewing experience and makes it easier to become enveloped into the story. Like all new things, it takes some adjusting to.

With the extra clarity comes an increase in scrutiny with the CGI. There are some scenes where the fakeness of the special effects is especially apparent. Overall, it’s a new technology that I believe will only get better as time progresses and more filmmakers take chances with it.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lives up to the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy that Jackson developed all those years ago and brings life to Middle-earth once again. There aren’t as many unexpected moments this time around, but there are plenty of epic scenes that are sure to please fans. 


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