Director Peter Jackson’s work on the live adaptation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy was critically and financially celebrated. Now known as one of the best movie trilogies to date, The Lord of the Rings has become a household name. Jackson has now begun work to do the same for the prequel story, The Hobbit. Deciding to split a story that is told in a little over 300 pages into 3 films seems a tad obsessive but given Jackson’s track record a little benefit of the doubt should be given.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins to tell the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), relative to Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) from The Lord of the Rings fame, and his journey to help the dwarves reclaim their original home and treasure from a dragon named Smaug. Reluctant at first, Bilbo is eventually convinced by a number of battle-ready dwarves and a familiar wizard by the name of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Led by the Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) the dwarves, Gandalf, and Bilbo set out on a real adventure. The return to this all too familiar universe feels like meeting up with old friends again. Even though the story takes place some 60 years prior to The Lord of the Rings saga we still get to see faces that we easily recognize. From Gandalf to Gollum, we are instantly transported back to what seems like a world gone by. As a huge fan of the first Jackson trilogy I was anxious to see if going back would be exciting or just derivative. The feel of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is different from Lord of the Rings in many respects. There is no feeling of epic battles on the horizon, or the sense of urgency that destroying the ring brought. The overall feeling in this film is enjoyment of the ride. In the previous trilogy you knew that at the end of each film we would enter into a large battle or the like. Here we are less concerned with the bookends but rather what happens between them.
This time around the technology behind The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a talked about as much the film itself. I had the luxury of seeing the film in 48 frames per second (also known as 48fps) and in 3D (fake) IMAX. With the higher frame rate you cannot help but have an intriguing experience. Panning across the beautiful landscapes of New Zealand with no blur was breathtaking. Seeing multiple camera and level changes while our heroes battled thousands of goblins underground was a sight to see. The 48fps leaves less ability for a director to pass off mediocre CGI to their audience. As you might imagine Peter Jackson rises to the occasion here. The close up moments with the goblins, orcs, trolls, and especially Gollum looked far superior to his previous work. Intense levels of details in all of these creatures and the fantastic speech sync work made things absolutely seamless. If you are going to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in an actual movie theater than its an imperative that you see it in 48fps. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to truly get use to it, but once you do it really draws you in and somehow makes you apart of the experience.
The character portrayals were across the board great. Martin Freeman as Bilbo was clearly the perfect choice. He swayed between his comfortable and predictable life to a budding adventurer. He makes a likeable character into a loveable one. Returning as Gandalf, Ian McKellen is superb as usual. Giving the old wizard such a balance of gravitas and smart-ass humor; McKellen is a fan favorite for a reason. He really seems to lose himself in the role which makes the audience adore the character even more this time around. Richard Armitage IS Thorin Oakenshield. I am not so sure that he is acting. Armitage embodies the tough no holds barred leader of the dwarves with such vigor. Easily the true standout in this outing, Armitage embraces the role and never looks back. There are tons of other dwarves I could just rattle off but that seems unnecessary. Just know that all the performances were great. Every dwarf felt like an individual, with his own style and personality. Even when they are not the main focus in a scene their signature personalities would shine through. All in all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a fun look back at a world that captivated us for a short while. Jackson looks to make it two highly successful trilogies in a row. I think he just might.
[easyreview title= "Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]