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Dan's Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Ready for another trilogy?
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (New Line Cinema)

Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, 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.

Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Directed by Peter Jackson.

GRADE: A-

REVIEW
:

Welcome back to Middle Earth. Ever since the runaway success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien and movie fans have waited for Peter Jackson's creation of The Hobbit. After a lot of posturing by jackson and other directors. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is finally in theaters this holiday season, the first in a new trilogy based on Tolkien's beloved tale.

Martin Freeman stars as the young Bilbo Baggins, selected by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to assist a group of dwarfs in regaining access to their kingdom that was overtaken by a giant dragon named Smaug. The group of 12 dwarfs are led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) who despises elves for abandoning his ancestors as Smaug took over the Lonely Mountain kingdom years prior. Bilbo is chosen by Gandalf due his lineage, some of which comes from practical hobbits and also from a more mischievous ancestry. Gandalf also selects a hobbit because the species are often overlooked by the rest of Middle Earth.

As the dwarfs, Gandalf and Bilbo strike out to the Lonely Mountain, they encounter trolls, orcs and other evil creatures before meeting up with the elves of Rivendell, but not before getting a little help from an eccentric wizard named Radagast (Sylvester McCoy). A conference between the elf king Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Elf leader Galadriel (Cate Blanchett),  Saruman The White Wizard (Christopher Lee) and Gandalf also takes place.

As Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarfs strike out again on their own, they fall into captivity of huge population of underground goblins. After their goblin capture, Bilbo slips away to the bottom of the cave near a lake, where he runs into Gollum (Andy Serkis) and picks up a particular ring. Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarfs escape the goblins' lair, only to encounter more orcs on the surface. A huge battle ensues, and the group seems doomed until a group of giant eagles come to the rescue.

That's where the film ends, and I'm sure many Tolkien purists will let out a groan of disapproval concerning the stopping point in the first of three Hobbit installments.

The good news is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is fine compliment that does not diminish from Peter Jackson's LOTR triumph from a decade earlier. The special effects, attention to detail and costumes are right on par with the other trilogy, as well as the script and scope of the all-too-familiar fantasy world. The moral imperative of Bilbo Baggins' rise from an insignificant "half-ling" to plucky hero Middle Earth hero is another element that Peter Jackson enhances, along with the far-reaching results of his choices.

The not-so-good news is, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an excellent film, although probably not greater than its Tolkien predecessors. One possible reason the new trilogy seems less than spectacular is the success of the LOTR series. We're perhaps spoiled into thinking every single Peter Jackson/Tolkien movie will be THE most awesome movie of the year. I think it's okay to expect the status quo for something as awesome as Jackson's interpretation of Tolkien. It's a pretty high bar, and that's a good thing.

A lot has been said of the technical enhancement that debuts in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I attended a screening shown in 48 frames per second (films have been shot and shown in 24 frames per second for the past century), which made the action flow so smooth you'd swear you were watching the real thing (3D enhances the experience as well). Some have complained that the extreme high definition is distracting, but once you get a little exposure to it, the 48 FPS becomes second nature.

As for the complaints about splitting such a short book into a movie trilogy, I say stop complaining. One of the biggest complaints people have about movies based on books is the tendency for the filmmaker to omit huge parts of the story to make it fit into the allotted running time theaters prefer. Yes, it's true this new trend can double or triple box office, but it also allows more of the book to be covered. One benefit to the new Hobbit trilogy is that Jackson will also include a lot of Tolkein's other Middle Earth writings. Enjoy it while it lasts.


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