Published on July 22nd, 2013 | by Allan Brown1
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review
Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) (3D & 48fps/HFR)
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott. Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy
Plot: Bilbo Baggins (Martin freeman) a young shire dwelling hobbit sets out on “an unexpected journey” with the help of the Wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) to the Lonely Mountain. His company, a feisty group of 13 Dwarves on a voyage to reclaim their stolen mountain home Erebor from the dragon, Smaug the Magnificent.
In 1997 when Peter Jackson won the rights to film The Lord of the Rings, one of the best loved books of all time, many thought it was a full hardy and risky venture. The story by most was deemed unfilmable, too rich and complex a tale dealing with fresh languages, histories of cultures, environments, countless narratives, subplots and innumerable detailed characters spanning over 600 pages (not to mention the appendices) to then be translated and justifiably brought to the silver screen without hacking away its core seemed impossible.
Jacksons plans for the two part film was forcibly squeezed by the hand of Miramax into a single film which ultimately saw Jackson bail. By chance and good fortune New Line Cinema picked up Jacksons vision and offered him the chance to film the project as a trilogy. With the creative might of Peter Jackson vision, Weta, Howard Shore and all the cast and crew involved, The Lord of the Rings went on to gain massive critical and financial success winning 11 Oscars and is now amongst the highest grossing trilogy of all time.
Now 4 years have past since the announcement of The Hobbit movie, a project that has endured complications, starts, delays, lawsuits and changes of director from the word go while we all waited with baited breath for that fateful return to the Middle Earth.
Now that the first part of The Hobbit trilogy is finally here, but is it the Middle Earth we all remember?
The Hobbit a much lighter book than LOTR written by JRR Tolkien as a bedtime story for his children. The book is not only lighter in weight but also in tone. The complexities of Middle Earth’s histories and subplots are told in a much straighter, immediate narrative making it more accessible for children and this is the angle in which PJ has formulated his adaptation for film.
The movie feels and looks like the Middle Earth we all remember, and in a sense it’s like going home. The only difference is as previously stated is in its tone. Whilst with the lord of the rings we felt the weight of Frodo Baggins journey, the death and the constant unsettling fear and impending doom round every corner. The Hobbit deals with a similar consciousness but with more sensitivity. This is ultimately a lighter hearted adventure story told in the vein it was intended by the author JRR Tolkien.
The Hobbit is beautifully written as are the characters. With 14 supporting roles on screen for the most part it could have easily fallen short, factors of how much screen time to give each character without allowing them feel too intrusive on the story or the flip side, falling out the story. This element has been tackled extremely well and feels expertly balanced throughout thanks to a strong screenplay by Jackson and his writing team Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro. Although we focus on certain characters more than others we still get a strong sense of the number of personalities on screen.
The acting is solid across the board. Sir Ian McKellen is Gandalf, there’s no question of it and again plays the fatherly role of the company. Andy Serkis, in the short time he appears once again breathes life into Gollum in one of the stand out scenes in the film. Richard Armitage makes a welcome, if a little generic, debut to Middle Earth as Thorin Oakenshield leader of the Dwarves. The actor who stands out though, is the leader himself, Martin Freeman. Expertly cast as Bilbo Baggins the young halfling from the Shire. Freeman manages to encompass Ian Holm mannerisms and quirks like a glove and completely steals every scene he is in. His comedic timing is a joy to watch as are his interactions with the dwarves and other characters he meets along the way and his emotional scenes prove to be completely convincing and add a weight to the story that at times feels otherwise lacking.
With that said there are flaws and although relatively minor, still noteworthy One of the primary reasons Jackson cited taking The Hobbit from a two part movie into a trilogy was to allow content from the Appendices. These additions at times however feel tacked on and slow the drive of the main story. In particular the scenes which involve Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) a wizard who is only mentioned briefly in the book has been given a subplot in this movie. This characters slapstick, zany and over the top performance feels extremely misplaced and disjointed from the rest of the film. Fortunately his presence is only felt for 15 mins or so and recovers as a result.
Another issue is the over use of CGI. While the Orcs and uruk hai from The Lord of the Rings were intimidating and haunting in their unnerving resemblance to humans and elves thanks to the fantastic work of Weta and their physical effects department. Peter Jackson this time has gone down the full CGI route with regards to the foes in Middle Earth in this Hobbit movie as well as in some key action sequences and as a result looses a lot of these physical attributes and believability. Some of the computer generated Orcs especially Azog and the Goblin King feel generic, dull and echo that of a video game or cartoon. Whether this was a conscious decision by the director to tone down the darkness and realism in the film for the younger audience is worth mention but ultimately it cheapens the feel of the movie.
As always, the cinematography is absolutely beautiful. The New Zealand landscape is Middle Earth and Jackson makes no bones about showing it in all its glory. The sweeping camera shots across the changing locations are jaw dropping, the brown grasslands shine with a golden radiance and the light hits just the right angle every time. It’s a completely stunning spectacle.
Howard Shore also returns as Composer and acts again as the voice of Middle Earth. Shores music is felt in every scene and once again compliments the visuals beautifully.
|| Now what of the new higher frame rate (HFR) technology used here for the first time that has been widely debated and discussed ever since its announcement back in 2008. Does it add to the movie experience, is it the new bold step in cinema’s future or is it just a gimmick? ||
Before delving in to it, it is worth noting that movies have been filmed at 24 frames per second since the late 1920s and we have all become very accustomed to viewing life through a lens at this rate. With that said, the human eye, as in what we see in real life equates to 60fps. Now with “The Hobbit” director Peter Jackson has pushed the envelope in what he hopes is the next step forward for cinema. He has and will shoot The Hobbit trilogy in 48fps. Shooting at this rate reduces motion blur when the camera moves at any given speed which has always been a problem for films that require this. It also gives a much clearer, crisper and true to life image on the screen. To paraphrase Jackson himself, he described the image being so clear it is almost like someone has cut out a window where the cinema screen used to be.
|| So does it add to the experience? ||
Unfortunately not, at least not for the better in this particular film. The look can best be described as watching a home video. It has that immediate real life look and yes its closer to what the human eye see’s but it leaves this fantasy epic looking like a cheap day time drama or a student home video project. The clarity is so crisp that everything on screen is put up to scrutiny, prosthetics look like prosthetics, sets at times look like sets and the cgi characters previously mentioned stick out like a sore thumb, never truly blending with their environment. There are also occasions were the film feels sped up, with the characters moving in fast forward. Ultimately this method of shooting did not suit this film with its realer to life look taking away much of the films magic. Although this is a new technology and will be some time before its fine tuned it still remains to be seen whether this is the direction cinema should and will be going in the future but time will tell. Thankfully the film can be seen in 4 different ways, 2D 24fps, 3D 24fps, IMAX 3D 24fps, 3D 48fps/HFR.
Summary: Peter Jackson has created a fantastic character rich and beautifully detailed adventure story that is funny, ambitious and great fun. Although lighter in tone than its big brothers it still packs a punch and is a valiant return to Middle Earth for the director. (Update) Having now viewed the film in both 24fps and 48fps I can say that the minor issue with cgi not blending with the its environment fully is virtually non existent in the 24fps edit and despite the motion blur when the camera moves at pace it is an much more satisfying and enjoyable experience.