Review: The Hobbit (JimmyO's take)
PLOT: After an unexpected visit from a wizard, a simple hobbit is convinced to go on an adventure far from home. Off to what is called the Lonely Mountain, he joins forces with a band of dwarves looking to reclaim their treasure and home from the monstrous dragon Smaug.
There are very few motion pictures that affected me quite like THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy had. Epic and emotional, I grew more and more ecstatic about experiencing each upcoming installment. Yet for THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, some of the excitement lessened as its release grew closer. Whether it was the news that there would be three films made from one book to the seemingly mixed reaction to it being shown in 48 frames per second, I found myself more than a little worried. How would Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth possibly live up to the earlier films? Well, perhaps it wasn’t meant to be as grand a tale.
For Frodo (Elijah Wood, who makes a brief appearance here), he literally had the weight of the world hanging from his neck – in the form of “one ring to rule them all.” Yet years before that monumental trip to Mordor, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) of Bag End was convinced to join in on an adventure. For THE HOBBIT, as dark and sometimes terrifying as the journey may get, it is a much more personal passage. This is more of a coming of age tale – or perhaps a mid-life crisis - as opposed to the grander scale that Frodo and the Fellowship experienced. Gone are most of the epic battles for the most part, as well as the grandeur presented in the first films.
With all my preconceived notions of what THE HOBBIT would be, there was still the fact that I really enjoy cinematically visiting Jackson’s recreation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. There was a sense of comfort returning to the places where the director took us in LOTR. It was also refreshing to once again hear Howard Shore's remarkable score present itself in a familiar yet fresh way. This is a world that was created with such care and detail that as a fan, it was like visiting an old friend. Especially with so many of the original cast members including Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as the Elrond and Galadriel among others.
The most satisfying returning cast member however is Andy Serkis as Smeagol (and his darker side Gollum). As great as he was technically in LOTR, he is absolutely flawless here. From the visual effects to Serkis exceptional performance, his short on-screen time very well may be the best part of the film. The exchange between Gollum and Freeman is absolutely perfect.
Speaking of Freeman, it is hard to imagine an actor better suited to play Bilbo – aside from the great Ian Holm of course. Martin brings a dry sense of humor that enlivens his character. He carries the film wonderfully as the little Hobbit with no desire to move from his comfortable surroundings. Freeman is a fantastic actor who fully commits to Bilbo through his mannerisms and his many little quirks. Yet there is an emotional core that is easy to relate to. Much like Elijah Wood as Frodo, he also shares a strong bond with the sensational Ian McKellan, who gives Gandalf as much soul and passion as he did in LOTR.
As much as I enjoyed this more personal journey, sometimes the deliberate pacing feels a bit strained. Considering this is the first film, you have to wonder how Mr. Jackson and company will fill the next two features. And while LOTR told an epic battle of good and evil, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY’s more personal approach occasionally wears thin. In many ways this first chapter feels like the home video “Extended Edition” as opposed to the “Theatrical Edition.” Many of the hard core fans will have no problem with this, yet those that are not quite converted to that level of commitment may feel the near three hours pass heavily upon them.
My only other grievance would be the quick introduction of so many characters early on without really getting a real feel for them. Aside from a tremendous Richard Armitage as Thorin, you didn’t really get a sense of who the Dwarves were. That was not the case in LOTR where most of the cast was utilized incredibly well. In THE HOBBIT, it is hard to really connect with the dwarves on any emotional level. I did however like the couple of musical moments where they chanted and sang, especially the haunting “Misty Mountains.”
My screening of the film was the much ballyhooed 48 fps (frames per second) in 3D. The experience was unique in that it was more akin to watching a mini-series in HD on BBC AMERICA – of course one that is larger than life with incredible special effects. It was a clear and sharp image which was able to enhance a sequence here and there. This is especially true for Gollum as he looked remarkable and felt very real. It is a bit strange to see a film like this look as clear as it would on live TV, so I did miss the more cinematic approach at times. I don’t know if LORD OF THE RINGS would have been as magnificent in this format.
In the end – or shall I say the beginning - THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is a visual feast with whimsy and charm. The performances from Freeman, McKellen, Serkis and Armitage are fantastic. I didn’t even mind the length, but I do feel that it might be more of a treat for fans of LOTR “Extended Editions” of which I am one. Let’s just hope that throughout the three films, Middle-Earth will still be a pleasant place to visit by July 2014 with THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN.
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