Director Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Does Jackson’s telling of the tale written by J.R.R. Tolkien live up to the already established Lord of the Rings series? It does when it needs to, otherwise it’s an entirely different journey that features a much lighter tone, with equal amount of action and lengthy story. The Hobbit acts almost exactly like The Fellowship of the Ring, simply meaning it sets up the story for the next two films. It’s a little slow at the starting gate, but it’s not too long before you remember just why you trust Jackson so much with this prestigious piece of property.
Young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is a Hobbit much like Frodo (Elijah Wood) of the Rings trilogy. His adventure begins in his small little village with a visit from the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). What Gandalf promises Bilbo is a journey that would alter his life and sculpt him into the man that he needs to become. This journey would not be safe or for the weak and still beneath all of the open fear and hesitation young Bilbo more than thinks about the idea of sharing in on an adventure with Gandalf and his company of Dwarfs to help reclaim their home and treasure that was stolen by an evil dragon named Smaug.
That’s where Jackson’s precursor to the Rings trilogy kicks off. Much like Fellowship we’re introduced to our main character Bilbo and a new set of side-characters that will help him inch closer to his destination. With this outing we’re at least familiar with Gandalf and later on Gollum (voiced and motion-captured by Andy Serkis), which makes trying to remember everyone’s name a lot easier than before. Author J.R.R. Tolkien‘s world is vast and feels endless in terms of characters and creatures, yet Jackson knows exactly how to capture that on film without losing you.
Jackson has absolutely no problems capturing Middle Earth and making it look as impressive as it did when we ended with The Return of the King. Special effects have been enhanced, allowing Jackson to really get creative with the trolls and various other monsters and yet he still reassures us with his attention to the tiniest of details. The Hobbit feels big and grand because of the staggering visuals, but where the true strength lies is in actor Martin Freeman.
He’s basically trusted with the entire production of the film on his shoulders. His character Bilbo is the most connectible of the bunch and Freeman has no struggles showing Bilbo’s rise as a believable hero. Bilbo is like most friendly Hobbits at the beginning of the film. He’s nice and polite and wouldn’t have a problem inviting you in for dinner, but he’s quickly tucked into bed at the first sign of trouble. It’s not that he’s a coward; he’s just not interested in things that he doesn’t completely comprehend. Safe is what he lives his life on and he doesn’t fully invest himself to the cause until Gandalf gives him a friendly reminder that he once was an adventurous young boy looking for trouble.
Bilbo has inner-doubts and feelings that don’t exactly match up with the rest of the company, but over the film’s stretched-out three-hour running time he becomes more comfortable with each new situation. His crossover into brave and bold is earned and that’s 100% because of Freeman’s range with the character. He’s not afraid to show us what Bilbo is really thinking at times, even if it’s something like bailing on the company and running back to the Shire. Bilbo’s actions are what ultimately makes him who he is by the end of the film and even though Jackson is the one guiding us with the camera it’s clearly Freeman’s ability to portray Bilbo without judgment and with an open mind that makes the end feel complete.
I attended an HFR3D screening of the film and I’m not sure if that’s the absolute best way to view the film. Fans of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit source material will probably end up seeing it in both formats (traditional 3D and HFR3D), but the general audience will probably want to pick one or the other. If you’re more worried about the technology of how Jackson made the film then you’re going to want to check it out in HFR3D. The faster frame-rate makes for a much smoother experience that resembles that of motion-flow television sets. Action becomes that much more real, while lengthy stretches of dialogue look too fast and lacking of cinematic quality. Detail is high, but almost too high, resulting in sets and props looking like sets and props and not actual pieces of Middle Earth.
Some CGI looks life-like (see Gollum), while others look out of place among a dozen grown men clearly wearing make-up and fake beards. It’s this ultra-level of clarity that almost gives you too much to look at, which then takes you out of the film and instead makes it feel like you’re watching Jackson toy around with an early format.
I tried my best to set aside the higher frame-rate when judging the film, so if you’d like to read more of me talking strictly HFR3D please click here.
If you’re looking for a great example of the impressive technology on display in The Hobbit get ready for one particular scene between Bilbo and Gollum, because it is the best moment in the entire film. Andy Serkis continues to prove that his motion-capture work should earn him an Oscar nomination at the very least, while Martin Freeman plays off of Jackson’s tone almost effortlessly. The two help the dark and grim scene feel iconic when compared to the Rings trilogy and it definitely helps signify just how important the One Ring is even in The Hobbit series.
The rest of The Hobbit lives up to the pre-established hype setup by Jackson’s Rings trilogy, while still remaining true to the source material. This isn’t nearly as dark and grim as Rings, but it shares similarities. The beginning of the film shows The Hobbit‘s lighter moments and Jackson balances the comedy wisely. Stupid body humor never completely rules out the rest of the film’s jokes and mannerisms. This leads into the film’s darker second half that channels the Rings series much more closely.
I like that Jackson was able to find that balance and stick with it. Some might appreciate the film’s humor more than others, while some might wish for something much darker. It really all comes down to how you’re viewing this film as either a new entry in a new trilogy or an installment in a larger series. Die-hard fans might dislike some of Jackson’s choices to change things around and hold certain things back, while others will be happy that he didn’t somehow squeeze a five-hour cut into theaters.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the essential puzzle piece needed in order to play the entire game. Everything it does is to help better the rest of the series. Some things might stretch on for far too long, but it will all hopefully factor in with the release of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again.
An Unexpected Journey is most-likely going to be the weakest of the three and I’m fine with that. It’s more than an okay movie, but it wouldn’t stand a chance alone if the other two sequels weren’t confirmed. There’s lots of setup that makes way for an enjoyable climax that ends with you wanting to come back for more.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 7.5/10