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Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Dec. 10, 2012by: Eric Walkuski


Click here to read Chris Bumbray's review of THE HOBBIT

PLOT: Sixty years before the events of THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Bilbo Baggins embarked on an amazing journey to the Wastelands of the Lonely Mountain to help a tribe of dwarves reclaim their homeland from the villainous dragon Smaug and, in the process, went from meek, content Hobbit to a brave, noble warrior.

REVIEW: Going in to see THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY at this point without baggage is impossible. The film is, of course, Peter Jackson's prequel to his beloved adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, a tough act to follow considering the awards, plaudits and heavy following. Then there's the matter of the high frame rate Jackson made the film in; perhaps you've heard that the director shot his movie at 48 frames-per-second, double the normal rate, which theoretically gives the movie (when projected in 3D and at 48fps) a hyper-real, you-are-there look but has been deemed unusual and off-putting in many early reactions. It's a curiosity at best, the consensus appears to be, and ultimately a major distraction.

My own experience with THE LORD OF THE RINGS has been one of sincere admiration mixed with aloofness. I find the films alternately astounding and boring, and while I acknowledge their beauty and grandeur, I can't count myself among those who cherish them because I'm emotionally kept at arm's length. Put it this way: I'm more apt not to watch them if they're on cable than I am to immediately flip them on... So walking into THE HOBBIT, I was frankly more intrigued to experience the frame rate controversy firsthand than to revisit Jackson and Tolkien's fantastical world of wizards, elves and trolls.

Gratefully, I found the film to be more or less in line with past trips to Middle-earth. It can often be a plodding, exposition-heavy drag, but can just as often be a truly exciting spectacle in the tradition of the great cinematic epics, with Jackson proving again several times that he can build and sustain a rousing action sequence as well as anyone ever has. People who love the original trilogy can rest assured that THE HOBBIT is wholly keeping with the general aura and atmosphere of those movies, while perhaps falling somewhat short of the novelty that they presented a decade ago.

The first act is the weakest, thanks to a large amount of exposition and a general sense of waiting for things to get exciting. THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING suffered from the same problem, although as that was the kickoff of the series, it's easy to forgive its gradual build-up. Here, Jackson and Co. are spinning their wheels while attempting to create complex drama out of what is essentially a very basic tale: a group of dwarves, led by the stoic Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), seek to reclaim their homeland from the fearsome dragon, Smaug, and have enlisted the assistance of the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Gandalf, in turn, recruits a complacent Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to join their quest in the role of “burglar.” And while the Hobbit is frightened and unsure of himself, he agrees to the challenge.

Much of THE HOBBIT's opening is a sort of knowing parallel to FELLOWSHIP's first hour, with a getting-to-know-you period for the large clan, with an uncertain Hobbit caught in the middle acting as the audience surrogate. The problem here, however, is that we don't have a disparate bunch of unique personalities; a couple of exceptions aside, all these dwarves more or less act and look very similarly. They're not an unlikable gang, but they're a big old jumble; Throrin stands out because he's their humorless King, and while Armitage is imposing, he's no Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in the charisma department. Thorin is thoroughly skeptical of Bilbo's mettle, and keeps the affable Hobbit in the doghouse during much of the journey, while the Hobbit finds the other dwarves more welcoming.

THE HOBBIT has evidently been very faithfully adapted by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro (the project's initial director), and it shows. The movie's early passages are bloated with talk, shenanigans and diversions. The group have several layovers as their mission progresses, and the movie is sometimes content to hang out while they shoot the bull. Paradise for Tolkien purists, most likely, but for the rest of us eager to witness a story unfold, Jackson's film can be frustratingly repetitive at times.

What offsets any boredom felt during the more ponderous passages is Jackson's mastery of the action sequence. THE HOBBIT contains several heart-pounding passages, most of them contained in the thrilling third act, which features a vertigo-inducing encounter with living mountains (terrific), a wild chase within a subterranean goblin kingdom (marvelous) and a cliff-side battle with vicious orcs and their snarling hounds (amazing). Jackson crafts what literally feels like a breakneck pace in the finale, as his camera swoops, cranes, dips and dives through a multitude of environments, with a seemingly endless assortment of objects and characters being thrown our way. There's definitely an argument to be made for another Visual Effects Oscar for Weta's work, as well as Andrew Lesnie's cinematography.

It would be rude not to mention Gollum (once again played with gusto by Andy Serkis), who gets an extended cameo toward the end of the film but whose very presence is as stunning and amusing as it was in the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. It may not be overstating things to say that the conflicted, pitiful creature has never been more fantastically rendered; Jackson, Weta and Serkis produce genuine movie magic with this character once again, and it simply never gets old watching him fret and conspire with himself. (It's also worth noting that the 3D in his sequence is terrific, and the 48fps may very well add to how brilliantly effective it is.)

The returning cast is solid, as can be expected. McKellen's Gandalf is such a reassuring presence and it's hard not to smile whenever the old pro looks as if he's pleased as punch to be reprising the role, which is always. Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving reprise their roles as luminous elves and they settle in comfortably, while Christopher Lee's Sauromon has a cameo that finds the wizard in a more benevolent state of mind than in LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. (It's great to see Lee once again, but it's becoming sadly apparent just how tough it is for the now 90-year-old actor to act at this stage.)

Freeman's Bilbo is a bit of a problem, at least at first. Like the character, Freeman sometimes seems to be trying too hard, and his overly emphatic puzzlement and exasperation frequently comes off like shtick in a BBC sitcom; he's very much a frazzled Brit throughout, even though everyone else is, you know, dwarves and wizards and such. Of course, Bilbo grows during his perilous journey, and it's only toward the end that we see Freeman lose the familiar affectations.

It remains to be seen if THE HOBBIT is worth spreading into three movies (as mentioned, I've not read the book but I understand that the consensus is three movies is about two too many), but if they are, it would not be unappreciated if Jackson comes to the realization that an epic needn't be three hours. He's loyal to a fault to a material and finds it necessary to over-stuff when restraint is called for.

We'll wrap up with a quick word about the 48fps: I'd recommend skipping it. THE HOBBIT looks completely bizarre for at least the first 20 minutes, as characters appear to move too fast and a strange inauthentic quality hangs over most of the Hobbiton sequences. One does adjust, more or less, but just when you think you're used to is, a scene comes along that throws you out of the immediacy of the picture once again. Action scenes or sweeping aerial shots look appropriately grand, but simple conversations or character moments are unorthodox in a most unwelcome way. I'm glad I saw this high frame rate experiment, if only for the sake of saying now I know what it looks like, but I don't think I'd want to witness THE HOBBIT – or any other movie – this way again.

Source: JoBlo.com

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3:47PM on 12/16/2012
I'm so glad I didn't fully consider this review. I truly enjoyed this movie! The pacing was very well...just not action every three to five minutes. Excellent plot and backstory. I want to see it again.
I'm so glad I didn't fully consider this review. I truly enjoyed this movie! The pacing was very well...just not action every three to five minutes. Excellent plot and backstory. I want to see it again.
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1:21PM on 12/15/2012
I thought Blu-ray looked very much like how the 48 fps is being described for this movie. Maybe if everyone starts using it we'll get used to it, but it seems like only a very few filmmakers are in support of it. I doubt it will be anything that goes much further than Jackson and possibly Cameron making their big movies in 48 fps, the critical mass seems to pretty much be 100% against it completley.
I thought Blu-ray looked very much like how the 48 fps is being described for this movie. Maybe if everyone starts using it we'll get used to it, but it seems like only a very few filmmakers are in support of it. I doubt it will be anything that goes much further than Jackson and possibly Cameron making their big movies in 48 fps, the critical mass seems to pretty much be 100% against it completley.
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9:39AM on 12/13/2012

I'll keep it short and simple (pun intended).

Saw it today, absolutely loved it, will probably watch it a few times more in cinemas. The key is to understand the events of LOTR, but not expect the same intensity from The Hobbit. It's a prequel on a lighter scale. I'm pretty sure it'll get a lot more epic towards the third movie. It's a worthy prequel to the LOTR trilogy.
Saw it today, absolutely loved it, will probably watch it a few times more in cinemas. The key is to understand the events of LOTR, but not expect the same intensity from The Hobbit. It's a prequel on a lighter scale. I'm pretty sure it'll get a lot more epic towards the third movie. It's a worthy prequel to the LOTR trilogy.
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+1
1:55AM on 12/11/2012
Had the chance to see this at a screening tonight and I thought it was a wonderful film. I can understand not being all that into it if you're not a fan. The review has a lot spot on. However, I love Jackson's vision of Middle Earth and that is what I loved most about this film. It's not as emotionally charged as LotR was, but Middle Earth is still a wonderful place, as are all of it's creatures and characters. So, if you enjoyed LotR, you will find The Hobbit to be a wonderfully pleasant
Had the chance to see this at a screening tonight and I thought it was a wonderful film. I can understand not being all that into it if you're not a fan. The review has a lot spot on. However, I love Jackson's vision of Middle Earth and that is what I loved most about this film. It's not as emotionally charged as LotR was, but Middle Earth is still a wonderful place, as are all of it's creatures and characters. So, if you enjoyed LotR, you will find The Hobbit to be a wonderfully pleasant movie. Just another opinion.
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10:37PM on 12/10/2012
I'll judge for myself. I'm sure the 7 out of 10 comes from a very particular viewpoint. The book is a classic and if the film does it justice then a rating doesn't matter.
I'll judge for myself. I'm sure the 7 out of 10 comes from a very particular viewpoint. The book is a classic and if the film does it justice then a rating doesn't matter.
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2:04PM on 12/10/2012
i really wanted to see this in Imax with the HFR and Star Trek prologue, just to get the full experience. But i'm in a spot where i can only watch it in HFR on a relatively small screen.

Hopefully i find it good enough to warrant a second viewing to make my trek to the Imax theater in a few weeks worth while
i really wanted to see this in Imax with the HFR and Star Trek prologue, just to get the full experience. But i'm in a spot where i can only watch it in HFR on a relatively small screen.

Hopefully i find it good enough to warrant a second viewing to make my trek to the Imax theater in a few weeks worth while
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11:18AM on 12/10/2012

An Expected Journey

I pretty much figured the review would shake up this way: a little stretched out, a little slow, not quite as epic as the previous trilogy, but still a great movie if you loved the LOTR. I get the feeling the Hobbit trilogy will end up with this 1st movie being the "weakest," and the 2nd and 3rd movies ramping up the stakes, the excitement, and action considerably. This sets it apart from LOTR because personally, i thought the first movie was the best, the 2nd was the weakest, and the 3rd not
I pretty much figured the review would shake up this way: a little stretched out, a little slow, not quite as epic as the previous trilogy, but still a great movie if you loved the LOTR. I get the feeling the Hobbit trilogy will end up with this 1st movie being the "weakest," and the 2nd and 3rd movies ramping up the stakes, the excitement, and action considerably. This sets it apart from LOTR because personally, i thought the first movie was the best, the 2nd was the weakest, and the 3rd not quite as good as the 1st. I have read all the books multiple times, so I'm one of the "purists" who disliked many of the unnecessary changes in LOTR but still thoroughly enjoyed the movies. I'm expecting more of the same with the Hobbit, so it's safe to say my expectations are a little lower this time around. That said, I have my tickets for the midnight showing on opening night, and I can't wait!
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7:33AM on 12/10/2012
The consensus from the review leads me to believe that the optimal version of the Hobbit would be a varying frame-rate film: 24 FPS for close-ups and dialogue scenes and 48 FPS for action scenes and wide shots.
The consensus from the review leads me to believe that the optimal version of the Hobbit would be a varying frame-rate film: 24 FPS for close-ups and dialogue scenes and 48 FPS for action scenes and wide shots.
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6:52AM on 12/10/2012

Will someone PLEASE review the 24fps version?

I've known for over a year now that I will *not* be seeing the 3-D 48fps version, but what's scaring me is that the 24 fps rate is a down-conversion from 48fps, and not truly shot at 24 fps. I'd like to know if that process produces a truly watchable 24 fps movie, or whether the conversion fails and you can tell its a conversion from 48.
I've known for over a year now that I will *not* be seeing the 3-D 48fps version, but what's scaring me is that the 24 fps rate is a down-conversion from 48fps, and not truly shot at 24 fps. I'd like to know if that process produces a truly watchable 24 fps movie, or whether the conversion fails and you can tell its a conversion from 48.
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2:16PM on 12/10/2012
i may be naive, but doesnt down converting it to 24 frames just send it through a computer to remove every other frame from the film reel?

so i would assume that the film would just look the same are the original three with an even more fluid special effects set up
i may be naive, but doesnt down converting it to 24 frames just send it through a computer to remove every other frame from the film reel?

so i would assume that the film would just look the same are the original three with an even more fluid special effects set up
2:21PM on 12/10/2012
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
2:21PM on 12/10/2012
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
2:21PM on 12/10/2012
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
2:21PM on 12/10/2012
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
2:21PM on 12/10/2012
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
2:21PM on 12/10/2012
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
@Nowheredan136

It's not that simple, from what I understand. They have to add in some artificial movement blurring and other effects to fully emulate the 24fps aesthetic.
6:19PM on 12/10/2012
Wow 2k1...excellent multiple posts :)

But yeah, if you compare "every other frame" of a 48 fps shot with an actual 24 fps shot, the fact that the 24 fps frames are exposed to light for twice as long as a 48fps frame means that anything that is moving will be more blurry in a 24 fps frame. That blurriness will be missing in the "every other" 48 fps frames.
Wow 2k1...excellent multiple posts :)

But yeah, if you compare "every other frame" of a 48 fps shot with an actual 24 fps shot, the fact that the 24 fps frames are exposed to light for twice as long as a 48fps frame means that anything that is moving will be more blurry in a 24 fps frame. That blurriness will be missing in the "every other" 48 fps frames.
10:53AM on 12/11/2012
wtf 2k1 double post much? I thought i was going to get an answer to a great question instead I find the same thing 7 times. Every time you refresh the page on joblo after you comment it reposts the comment. You have to click away to a different story and then come back to avoid double posting. Its stupid but thats how it works here.
wtf 2k1 double post much? I thought i was going to get an answer to a great question instead I find the same thing 7 times. Every time you refresh the page on joblo after you comment it reposts the comment. You have to click away to a different story and then come back to avoid double posting. Its stupid but thats how it works here.
+6
6:20AM on 12/10/2012
I have read the book, and if Jackson wants to make it 3 movies he can - it is spreading it a bit thin, but i mean every chapter in the has a new monster, or something going on - its a brisk read, but not uneventful. As i understand, they will show some of Gandalf's adventures when he leaves the party etc, But yeah its for money, but so is everything produced in hollywood anyway, at least they are taking our money and giving us some good entertainment, not like twilight.
I have read the book, and if Jackson wants to make it 3 movies he can - it is spreading it a bit thin, but i mean every chapter in the has a new monster, or something going on - its a brisk read, but not uneventful. As i understand, they will show some of Gandalf's adventures when he leaves the party etc, But yeah its for money, but so is everything produced in hollywood anyway, at least they are taking our money and giving us some good entertainment, not like twilight.
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4:45AM on 12/10/2012
I saw it in 3D 48fps too and this review is spot on.
I saw it in 3D 48fps too and this review is spot on.
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4:16AM on 12/10/2012
You think this is stretching a book thin, just wait till the 27-part Silmarillion adaptation
You think this is stretching a book thin, just wait till the 27-part Silmarillion adaptation
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+5
1:23AM on 12/10/2012
In all honesty I had assumed it would be like this. I had said, since I first saw the trailer for the film, that we wouldn't get the best parts of The Hobbit until the second half, or since this is now a trilogy, most likely the latter half of the second film and the third film. That's when we get the really cool stuff, like Smaug and the epic war. I am still looking forward to this film, but I'm not the least bit surprised it's not the epic that Fellowship was. That said, if this is a 7, I can
In all honesty I had assumed it would be like this. I had said, since I first saw the trailer for the film, that we wouldn't get the best parts of The Hobbit until the second half, or since this is now a trilogy, most likely the latter half of the second film and the third film. That's when we get the really cool stuff, like Smaug and the epic war. I am still looking forward to this film, but I'm not the least bit surprised it's not the epic that Fellowship was. That said, if this is a 7, I can only imagine that the next film, and especially the last film, will be pretty fantastic. I really can't wait to see what they do with Smaug.
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1:54AM on 12/10/2012
I'm right there with ya. As excited as I am to see this, I know it's just the first film - and the LOTR trilogy will be certainly be one tough act to follow. Still, I can't help but be really excited about seeing this first chapter, especially for Ian McKellen's return as Gandalf.
I'm right there with ya. As excited as I am to see this, I know it's just the first film - and the LOTR trilogy will be certainly be one tough act to follow. Still, I can't help but be really excited about seeing this first chapter, especially for Ian McKellen's return as Gandalf.
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