Directed By: Peter Jackson
The Lord of the Rings trilogy was a tremendous triumph for modern day cinema. The sheer magnitude of the entire project was deserving of immense admiration. That admiration came in the form of critical and financial success along with a record tying eleven Academy Awards for ‘The Return of the King’. Now eleven years after we first ventured into Middle Earth we given the opportunity to return with Peter Jackson’s latest film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. As many fans know the story of The Hobbit actually takes place prior to the events of The Lord of the Rings. We have seen prequels of previous landmark trilogies before, and their outcomes have been less than favorable. Luckily this prequel trilogy doesn’t begin with a colossal meltdown of disappointment. While The Hobbit isn’t as remarkable of an achievement as the Lord of the Rings it still remains a worthy entry to this fantasy franchise.
One reason The Hobbit doesn’t reach those high levels is because it doesn’t try to. The heroes here are embarking on a quest
to restore honor rather than attempting save the world from ultimate destruction. In the film Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, is recruited by Gandalf (Ian McKellen returns to the role) to help a group of Dwarves reclaim their home from a dangerous dragon. Of course in the land of Middle Earth no journey can be easy so theirs is full of perilous adventure and internal struggle that will forever change everyone involved. At its most basic level The Hobbit is a children’s story. With that comes a tone that is a lot lighter than some might expect. Its comedy is full of old fashioned whimsy which may not mix well with today’s more cynical audiences. Specifically there is a musical sequence where the Dwarves clean Bilbo’s dishes that feels like it was taken straight out of Marry Poppins. Personally I embraced this refreshing attitude, but many may find its simplistic nature juvenile.
Many wondered how they would take one relatively small novel and turn it into a twelve hour long trilogy. With a run time of almost three hours it becomes evident rather quickly they are struggling to fill time due to a lack of content. The pace is snail like as it takes nearly an hour into the movie before the adventure actually begins. For those that are Hobbit enthusiasts I’m sure they will enjoy the over explanation of every minute detail, but personally I was waiting…and waiting for this journey to begin. When things finally do pick up I was completely enthralled with much of the wonderment the film provides. Peter Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie absolutely engulf you into this world of enchantment and danger. Gorgeous landscapes, breathtaking waterfalls, and ridged mountain tops help mix the worlds of reality and fantasy. Howard Shore also provided an outstanding score once again to make this return feel complete.
When talking about The Hobbit one factor that needs to be mention is the format you viewed it in. (It is currently available on 6 different formats) Much fuss was made over the decision to shoot the film in 48 frames per second, twice as fast as the standard 24 frames per second. The reasoning behind this idea is to provide a smoother picture that will especially benefit 3D. Many theaters don’t even have this technology yet so the majority of audiences will view it in the typical 24 frame rate. I viewed the film in 3D IMAX so I am unable to comment on the high frame rate, but can mention the 3D overall was rather lackluster. Never did it add anything to the movie, and if it wasn’t for the obnoxious glasses I would have forgotten I was watching it in 3D. Actually it may have done more harm than good. There was a sequence where the group is attempting to escape from a Goblin mine that provided the idyllic opportunity for 3D to show its worth. It was reminiscent of amped up Indiana Jones set piece with its meticulous choreography. Instead of being enhanced by 3D it made it a sensory overload of confusion. Everything was one big jumble of flashy colors and crazy antics. Especially when compared to the rest of the action which was full of fun and easy to follow.
Though the 3D left me underwhelmed the special effects overall were again superb. This franchise can serve as a time capsule for how much special effects have improved in the last 10 years. My only big gripe was the decision to use CGI to render all the Orcs and Goblins rather than use live action actors. It severely lessened the epic feel of the larger battle sequences. Minus that issue the rest of the CGI was an upgrade. Particularly the rendering of Gollum is a great example of how they enhanced upon the groundwork of what came before.You almost forget you are looking at a computer creation and not the real thing. Fortunately they even got Andy Serkis to return for the role he made famous. He once again shines as one of the best parts of the movie as he faces off against Bilbo in a game of wits and riddles. Like with the previous films Serkis not only provides the voice but also dawns the motion capture suit once again. This franchise has always been light years ahead of everyone else with this technology and that trend continues. Serkis’s performance combined with this tech give Gollum an unlimited array of facial expressions, which allows this grotesque figure to morph into a sympathetic character. Credit also needs to goes to Martin Freeman who plays our reluctant and ‘unexpected’ hero. He is the ideal embodiment of the everyday person turned into an unlikely warrior. He was everything his character and this story needed him to be.
The themes of The Hobbit are basic but poignant. They are simple ideas like what it means to show true courage or how what is right isn’t always what is popular. It weaves these universal truths into an adventure of high imagination. Watching mountains come alive and people soaring on the backs of eagles are things we often dream of as children. If you are able to embrace your inner child you can get lost in the extraordinary world of wizards, dragons, ghosts, and goblins. However it is not like you need to lower your IQ to appreciate what is taking place. Adults tend to get so wrapped up into life’s harsh realities they can shun things that are overly pleasant. Those that can break away from that initial reaction can welcome its desire to provide absolute joy. Sure there are darker moments, but they are only meant to make the light shine brighter. With the horrific tragedies reality has recently provided sometimes a film like this can present a timely gift of escape.