Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by Peter Jackson
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson & Guillermo del Toro

     I'll start kindly by stating that I did not outright hate this film, but it is hard to find an overt amount of enjoyment. This probably is not the best way to start a review of a film and, a film made from the writings and story of a much loved book, but I have to be honest. The film is just not inspiring and lacks the heart and majesty that Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy possessed. This is a film so drowned in CG effects and a muddled, thinly expanded story, with acting that feels confused and forced. The only saving grace to Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the glorious, pristine 48 frames per second high frame rate which is really the only reason to enjoy and savor this bogged down mess of a film.
     The film, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's legendary book "The Hobbit" and from the same team that brought us the Lord of the Rings films, focuses on the halfling Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his "unexpected journey" through Middle Earth. The cautious hobbit is swept up in an expedition with thirteen dwarves led to him by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan). He reluctantly embarks on this journey to aid in helping the dwarves reclaim there mountain home and fight off the dragon Smaug who has stolen it. The journey also leads him to the creature that will change his life forever when he meets Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the ring that changes his life and the course of Middle Earth permanently. And its a long, long exploration that has been spread out into three films, each roughly around three hours long. And this is only the first film in the unnecessary trilogy. It's too much and too thin. Jackson has completely over did it this time around.
     The films opening hour involves mainly a series of dwarves arriving at Bilbo's home Bag End. They eat all of his food and drink his ale, much to the chagrin of Mr. Baggins. He does not want them there and not until Gandalf arrives at states their purpose for being there, to have Bilbo aid them with his size and innocence on a journey to the Lonely Mountain and the dwarves leave early the next morning after Bilbo decides not to go with him, does he realize he needs change and excitement in his life. The film begins to drag with this scene lasting way too long and part of that is because there are thirteen dwarves and it is extremely hard to keep track of who is who. It is in tune with the book and the right amount of dwarves but it is so many names and faces, so fast, that even by the end of the film I could only single out two or three of the dwarves.
     I must have shifted in my seat more than thirty times. The movie dragged and dragged. Once I got to the scene where the group is travelling through a mountain pass and two sides, or ends, of the mountains come to life and begin to fight I really began to become uninterested. It seemed like just filler to extend the story that did not need to be there. Then the journey through the mountain pass and the fight against the goblins was seemingly endless and then the finale where the group is trapped at the edge of a cliff with one tree basically hiding them from the head goblin and wargs that are trying to kill them lasts forever. I mean forever. There is little storytelling and just an extensive saturation of special effects and meandering action. I also thought the riddle challenge between Bilbo and Gollum at the underground lake just lasted far too long. Get to it already. I'm sorry, but its just too much and I did enjoy his Rings trilogy thoroughly, but this is just CG gimmickry that kept the story going on far too long then it needed to be. Well, only two more films and six hours to get through the rest.

     Martin Freeman does an admirable job as Bilbo but just seemed uninterested or exhausted, principal photography lasted 266 days and with assured reshoots will have more shooting. Freeman is an excellent actor, just see his work in the fantastic show Sherlock, but just does not have the heart and passion that kept me invested in his journey. I know Bilbo was hesitant to invest in this expedition and at the last minute jumped into to it for some excitement from his comfortable, possibly boring existence, but I just was interested in what was happening with him on screen. The saving grace was Ian McKellan as Gandalf who brought his intellect and affection to the role of the wise wizard. Also, Richard Armitage who plays the heroic dwarf warrior Thorin Oakenshield brings brute force and  energy to the role.
     The main reason to see the film is the glorious, pristine quality of the film being shot at 48 frames per second. I was floored, excited and completely engrossed in every shot. The high frame rate is a new, exciting technology and gives the visual appearance close to what we see every day. The shots of grass were so beautifully natural and textured perfectly. I felt as if I was looking at grass outside on a sunny day. The one thing I did not like is that to see the film in the high frame rate it had to be seen in 3D. It is an annoying gimmick and myself, having to wear eyeglasses, then to have to put 3D glasses on over that was a distraction. I still was amazed by the clarity of the image being projected but I despise 3D and it did not add anything to the viewing experience. I did not have any problem with the high frame rate though. I did not feel or notice any blurs and I did not have a problem with noticing some of the make up on the characters faces, specifically the opening scene of the older Bilbo (Ian Holm). I loved this new clarity that can be presented and it could likely be the end of film in the future. The high frame rate is the way to see The Hobbit without question.
     Peter Jackson is a talented director but he definitely does not know how to just end a film. I enjoyed his third film in Rings trilogy, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but that went through four different endings and was saturated with over sentimentality. I hope that Jackson, who has made graphic, funny and challenging films, such as Dead Alive and Heavenly Creatures, needs to go back to the basics. Get away from the huge budgets and CG coated films. I'm sure spreading this book into three films is going to bring huge money to Jackson and the New Zealand based digital design company WETA, but it feels like the reason to spread this 300 plus paged book out into three exhaustively long films is based in making money. Well, at least he is breaking ground with filming it in the beautiful 48 frames per second high frame rate. The CG is designed with precise detail, as well as the production design, costumes and makeup are all top notch but the storytelling is heavily lacking. I wish he would take a break and come back and make a more personal, gritty film like his earlier films and stay away from the franchises. Go back to the basics of storytelling and not forcing the emotion and over extension of the story. Maybe if Guillermo del Toro would have stayed and directed this film it would have turned out better. I'm sure it would have, but glad he moved on to other projects.
     Overall, I have to recommend seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, but not because of its content or storytelling. It's all about that engaging high frame rate. I could not stop musing about how beautiful every shot looked and how, at least, the 48 frames per second saved this film from being a total misfire. Peter Jackson is a better filmmaker than what he has managed to produce here. I've seen it with his other Middle Earth venture in the Lord of the Rings and the fantastic Heavenly Creatures. But, this over bloated attempt back into Tolkien's world is weak with an advanced technological that is fascinating to see and the future of cinema.

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