Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Guillermo del Toro; based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien
Cast: Martin Freeman & Ian Holm as Bilbo Baggins, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, Ken Stott as Balin, Graham McTavish as Dwalin, William Kircher as Bifur, James Nesbitt as Bofur, Stephen Hunter as Bombur, Dean O’Gorman as Fili, Aidan Turner as Kili, John Callen as Oin, Peter Hambleton as Gloin, Jed Brophy as Nori, Mark Hadlow as Dori, Adam Brown as Ori, Andy Serkis as Gollum, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast, Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Running time: 2 hours 49 minutes
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903624/
Plot: Sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, happily respectable hobbit Bilbo Baggins finds himself on a dangerous quest with 13 dwarves and the legendary wizard, Gandalf.
There are two versions of me reviewing Peter Jackson’s latest trip to Middle-earth. One is the proud geek who became an obsessive J.R.R. Tolkien fan after seeing Jackson’s movie of The Fellowship of the Ring. The other is the professional film critic of 15+ years whose job is to analyze every cinematic effort I see (whether I really want to or not).
The critic version says this: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes its sweet time, luxuriating in the fact that there are two more movies to come, and Jackson can pretty much do whatever he wants. He overindulges in pretty vistas and a very awkward flashback/narrative structure involving Bilbo talking to Frodo just before the events of Fellowship take place.
The geek version says: The more Middle-earth, the better! I’d happily stare at a 20-minute establishing shot of Rivendell, so watching people walk across a field for a few extra seconds isn’t going to bother me. And Jackson has earned the right to be overindulgent.
You can see my dilemma.
I appreciate the tricky task of giving a 300-page children’s book the same epic feel as the Rings movies, and Jackson succeeds at that more often than not. We get to see battles that are only talked about in the book, and the sweep and scope of Middle-earth are still breathtaking. The book hints at a larger, more detailed universe – the movie shows it.
That means including material from non-Hobbit sources (see my article in The Kansas City Star), and Jackson integrates it well with the lighter, more insular quality of Bilbo’s adventure. It’s too bad Jackson couldn’t have made The Hobbit first, but legal issues made that impossible. So, he keeps the silly humor (hello, idiot trolls!), while setting up the darker deeds that everyone has already seen. Like all prequels, it fills in gaps instead of introducing anything new, but it does so with the style and affection we’ve come to expect from Jackson and his equally brilliant collaborators.
If the tonal shifts are a mixed bag, they’re nothing compared to the experience of seeing the film at its intended 48 frames-per-second projection speed. The technique is great for action scenes, eliminating the blurry quality that so many 3D movies have whenever anyone moves. It’s also great for interior and low-light sequences, which gain a new visual clarity. Not so effective are the static daylight scenes, which take on a cold, airless quality that is extremely disconcerting. Maybe we’ll all get used to this, just like previous generations adjusted to sound and color in their movies. The technology is bound to improve over time, too. Until then, I’ll be rewatching this at 24fps, and probably in 2D.
There’s almost no point in commenting on how great the cast is, how beautiful the movie looks, how much sheer fun it all is. What else would you expect? I will give a special shout-out to the great Andy Serkis, who reminds us all what a terrifying little bastard Gollum can be. The scene where he and Bilbo trade riddles in the dark – and Bilbo finds a pretty golden ring – is marvelously chilling.
So, there you have it. The critic says this is worth the ride, but has some notable flaws. The geek says to hell with the critic. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey doesn’t feel like a long, arduous trek to distant lands. It feels like coming home.