The Hobbit An Unexpected JourneyÂ is the first chapter in Peter Jacksonâ€™s new Middle-earth trilogy â€“ once again adapted from the beloved fantasy world brought about by author J.R.R. Tolkien. AfterÂ director Guillermo del Toro left the project, Jackson took on the directorâ€™s chair and expanded the would-be movie series â€“ initially conceived as a two-part adaptation ofÂ The Hobbit storyline â€“ into a full-onÂ Lord of the RingsÂ prequel trilogy.
While the story plot of Part 1,Â An Unexpected Journey, and Part 2,Â The Desolation of Smaug, involve a relatively straightforward storyline, the mystery surrounding Part 3,Â There and Back Again, has left many fans wondering if Jackson and New Line Cinema sacrificed a qualityÂ HobbitÂ adaptation for a third chance for box office earnings.
There and Back AgainÂ is set for release in summer 2014, so itâ€™ll be awhile before we can definitively weigh in on that trilogy decision; however, ifÂ The Hobbit An Unexpected JourneyÂ is any indication of what will happen,Â Lord of the RingsÂ loyal fans have reason to be hopeful that the director will provide another captivating round of Middle-earth journeys.Â An Unexpected JourneyÂ does not match the scale established inÂ Lord of the Rings, butÂ there are still plenty of eye-popping visuals, enchanting action set-pieces, and intriguing character cameos, to prevent the film from being the underwhelming (and cheesy) experience that some skeptics were anticipating. In fact, the more intimate storyline, centered around reluctant/adventure-loving hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), his thirteen dwarf companions, and the renowned Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), often outshines similar plot beats fromÂ The Fellowship of the Ring.
InÂ The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey, a pre-Lord of the Rings Bilbo Baggins has abandoned his thirst for adventure in favor of a safe and comfortable life in The Shire. For decades, Bilbo has loved the quiet of Bag End, his Hobbit-hole, a well-stocked pantry, and the warmth of his fireplace to the beauty and terrors of the lands beyond his home â€“ until Gandalf the Grey arrives at his doorsteps.
The wizard invites The Hobbit on a quest to help a band of dwarves retake their homeland, The Lonely Mountain, from a ruthless and dangerous dragon, Smaug. Unwilling to resist the opportunity for adventure, Bilbo agrees to go along with the group, which is led byÂ Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), heir to the King Under the Mountain crown. The gang encounters challenge after challenge, and â€“ unbeknownst to even the noble Gandalf â€“ bears first witness to a dangerous sequence of events that will haunt the next generation of hobbits, dwarves, elves, and men.
Unsurprisingly, there are a few similarities betweenÂ An Unexpected JourneyÂ andÂ The Fellowship of the Ring, most easily to be seen is the core premise (a ragtag gang of heroes on a life-or-death quest through the wilds of Middle-earth); still, Jacksonâ€™s latest work is differentiated by a number of smart moviemaking choices and solid character dynamics that were shown in the Tolkien source material â€“ especially the multifaceted Bilbo Baggins.
Freeman gives a sharp and captivating performance as the courageous hobbit â€“ bringing nuance to a role that draws stark contrast to Elijah Woodâ€™s turn as Frodo (who loves an especially light-hearted cameo return). Unlike theÂ Lord of the RingsÂ protagonist, Bilbo revels in his adventure â€“ even when heâ€™s in over his head â€“ with a solid balance of wit, humor, and bravery that translates into genuinely entertaining (as well as emotionally impactful) scenes. Although the tone ofÂ The Hobbit bookÂ is a bit lighter compared toÂ Lord of the Rings,Â the movie version of Bilbo easily fits into Jacksonâ€™s darker overarching film universe â€“ which should be a relief to audiences that were put-off by the rowdy dwarf antics that have dominated the film adaptationâ€™s marketing.
In fact, the dwarves successfully walk a very fine line between jolly goofballs and downright tough-as-nails warriors. Many of their respective combat scenes arenâ€™t just intriguing, they feature unique action beats that are especially impressive when you take into considerationÂ the superb mix of camera tricks, CGI, and practical prosthetics used to make onscreen interactions seem believable when dwarf, goblin, hobbit, and wizard parts all collide in the fight. A flashback scene that establishesÂ Thorin as the leader of the group of dwarf is especially impressive, and could compete against fan-favorite battles fromÂ Return of the KingÂ â€“ cementing the character as one of the strongest brawlers in Middle-earth.
Many subtle (and some not-so subtle) changes lead to tense and enchanting action scenes, together with imaginative visual spectacle, helping to ratchet up the relatively modestÂ HobbitÂ source material storyline â€“ and produce a movie experience that matches the thrill and breadth of the original movie trilogy. Hence, fans of the series will also love many classic character moments inÂ An Unexpected JourneyÂ â€“ especially the fateful game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis). Jackson manages to provide even the quietestÂ scenes with weight â€“ as certain developments carry impact far beyond the short-termÂ Hobbit-centric storyline.
Sadly, not all of theÂ Hobbit/Lord of the RingsÂ bridging serves the story at hand â€“ which results in a lengthy movie (169Â minutes) that contains a few overlong or disjointed sequences. All of theÂ Lord of the RingsÂ foreshadowing is interesting, but at times it undercuts the importance of the current objective (Smaug and the Lonely Mountain). Itâ€™s evident thatÂ The Hobbit tale could have probably been told in two movies and, as a result, audiences will probably be mixed on the success of the bridging sequences inÂ An Unexpected Journey,Â The Desolation of Smaug, as well asÂ There and Back Again; however, the added content barely undermines the quality of Jacksonâ€™s latest effort â€“ even for especially cynical filmgoers.
More to the controversy is the directorâ€™s choice to film in 48fps â€“ a format that results inÂ ultra-realistic visuals but, as many moviemakers argue, is so true-to-life that it can actually be a distraction â€“ depriving moviegoers of immersion. Weâ€™ve put together a different editorial discussing theÂ pros and cons ofÂ The Hobbit in 48fpsÂ but, with regard to a review recommendation, the format is definitely worth experiencing â€“ if for no other reason than to form your own opinion (considering thereâ€™s a HFR 3D-ready theater near you). 48 frames per second can be disorienting at first, butÂ An Unexpected JourneyÂ makes smart use of the presentation â€“ providing a number of breath-taking visual set pieces. There are tons of films that we would not want to see in 48fps and, much like 3D, moviemakers should be smart about when to use and avoid the format, but Jacksonâ€™sÂ HobbitÂ film is a worthy trial run.
In the long run,Â The Hobbit prequels could be weakened by Jacksonâ€™s extended three-movie scheme, but if Part 2 and Part 3 are as enjoyable asÂ An Unexpected Journey, itâ€™ll be hard for filmgoers to complain. The movie includes everything that made the originalÂ Lord of the RingsÂ trilogy so remarkable â€“ action-adventure, charm, humor, and jaw-dropping fantasy battles. Indeed, a few extemporaneousÂ Lord of the RingsÂ elements slow things down and distract from the heartÂ HobbitÂ storyline, but overall, the director has once again provided audiences with a charming and exciting trip to Middle-earth.
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