Monday, January 14, 2013

Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The (2012)

Director: Peter Jackson
Notable Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Sylvester McCoy, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis - with cameos by Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving

I must preface this review with a brief statement of my feelings on "The Lord Of The Rings" films since I have yet to officially write reviews on them. That trilogy is made up of fantastically executed films that embrace their fantasy elements and giving it enough depth to be relevant. They are also way too long winded for their own good. That's why when they announced that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" would be the first part of three and damn near three hours, my fears of a tighter film that cuts out the fat was only heightened. Luckily, "An Unexpected Journey" does it's best to keep the pacing brisk and the execution to the standard set by "The Lord Of The Rings" even if the film is still far too long.

Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) has been living a very quiet life in Bag End. When the old face of Gandalf (McKellen) shows up offering him the chance of a lifetime to journey with thirteen dwarves, he is taken off guard. When he learns of the horrors that these dwarves have faced trying to retake their home from Smaug, a vicious dragon, he decides to accompany them in their quest. It's a dangerous journey that will take Bilbo across all of Middle Earth and allow him to discover an ancient ring with vast power...

O rest ye merry gentle-dwarves...
As a long time Peter Jackson fan (before "The Lord Of Rings", don't you even think I jumped that bandwagon), it's hard not to fall in love with his distinct abilities to craft a film. He knows how to work the visuals to epic proportions and his dedication to something like "The Hobbit" is evident in the details of the film. You damn near can feel the love pulsating. And that kind of devotion lends itself to enough charm in the style and writing that "The Hobbit" is a film that I did, indeed, enjoy. Visually, it's a spectacle of massive scale. The art design and visionary work to create these massive beautiful landscapes and creatures of Middle Earth is only to be admired. Jackson certainly earns merit there with this first "Hobbit" film. The locations are top notch, the cinematography is stunning, and the development of the monsters/mythical folk is awesome. If there was a film that probably deserved recognition for the make up effects and CGI (the rolling eye of the troll had me dying) it certainly is "An Unexpected Journey."

Thoughtful acting if I ever saw some.
Not only is this film a massive success visually, really working the color palette and style to the maximum, the execution from the actors is also stunning. The casting is once again inspired. Martin Freeman brings a real livelihood and connection as the awkward Bilbo and partnering with a smoldering and strong subtle performance from Armitage as the lead dwarf that balances it out nicely. The return of McKellen is, as always, a welcome breath of acting when so much of these fantasy movies seem to be too epic for their own good. The rest of the supporting cast (including some nice, if not unneeded cameos...seriously Christopher Lee is 90 and he is still doing these movies) is strong on their own and it makes for a well rounded film experience.

Andy Serkis once again owns as Gollum...highlighting one of the best sequences in the film.
My issues with "The Hobbit" do not stem from the on screen executions. Jackson is a brilliant director, the acting is only of the highest caliber, and the special effects are jaw dropping. It has to do with the entire 'concept' of the film and how it proceeds to go about itself. Firstly, for those unaware, there was an original cartoon for "The Hobbit" way back when in 1977. It covers the entire book (obviously editing for time and content) in 77 minutes and does quite an admirable job at it. So why Jackson chose to make this film 3 hours (and covers about half of the story) is somewhat questionable. He certainly keeps the pace moving, adding in a few additional sub plots including one with another wizard which is fun, despite not really starting the journey until a good portion into the film. At times, "The Hobbit" just feels too detailed and takes too much time getting to where it needs to be. It desperately wants to be as epic as "The Lord Of The Rings", but the content doesn't necessarily match. Leaving a film that is epic, but feels like it should have been a bit more of a personal character study.

Thus far, I have to admit that I still enjoy that 1977 cartoon more than this film. While this film certainly carries quite a bit of strong execution, the extension of action sequences (including the longest chase known to man through the goblin tunnels) and added content make for a film that just feels a bit more forced than it should have been. It's still going to end up being a cult favorite, but I'm going to have to wait for parts 2 and 3 to be released to give my final judgement.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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