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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” (2012) Review

The Hobbit Poster

I have been looking forward to these last few weeks of the year due to three film releases I have been highly anticipating, “The Hobbit” being one of them (“The Impossible” and “Django Unchained”, the others). Yet, I have been cautious about getting my hopes up for this film. I thoroughly enjoy the original “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, but have had worries as to how Peter Jackson was going to stretch one book over 3 films (3 approximately 3-hour films, at that) and what pacing issues would occur. Does “The Hobbit” live up to the excellence of the original trilogy?

Let me start by saying that the scenes are still epic, many characters return, and Gandalf is still awesome. The cinematography is absolutely stunning throughout the film, and there are plenty of astonishing set pieces and some aggressive camera work. Every movement is captured wonderfully at the increased frame rate of 48 frames per second. Further, the CGI work is incredible as well.

On top of the visuals, there is also some great sound work. The soundtrack consists of high quality epic fantasy fare, complimenting the highs and lows of the journey, and the voice acting for the CGI characters is well done. Yet, where the sound design and editing really succeeds is in the clashing of blades, cries of animals, and environmental noises. The action sounds (and looks) so nice that it really brings the journey to life.

In terms of plot, “An Unexpected Journey” follows the path of the original Lord of the Rings films as a trilogy. Certainly some scenes could have been cut to cut down on film length, but I don’t think the film really feels long at all. That being said, my uneasiness over pacing was for naught. The movie may be slow in the beginning as it builds its background, but once it begins moving, it is paced well. The journey of Bilbo, Thorin, Gandalf, and the dwarves is not on the same scale as that of the original trilogy, but has a personal touch, combined with nice embellishment of high fantasy genre standards, that make it compelling to watch. The one downside I can say for the story is that for all the great interwoven stories, there is no resolution to any of them in this film. I know this is a trilogy, and the ending has me anticipating the next film, but I wish some story would have been resolved to make this feel like a more substantial entry for a trilogy.

Gandalf is as freaking badass as ever. Ian McKellen remains (and has always been) an incredible actor.

Gandalf is as freaking badass as ever. Ian McKellen remains (and has always been) an incredible actor.

Lastly, I will say that the acting is above average. Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis remain perfect as Gandalf and Gollum, and Martin Freeman does a nice job in his role as Bilbo. The band of dwarves are standard for their parts, but nothing too special. But, I still have to again praise Andy Serkis’ motion capture talent. He is the premiere mo-cap talent in the industry and it shows each time he is involved with a project (here, Gollum is wonderfully animated as always, despite his minimal screen time).

Overall, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is shaping up to be a nice trilogy and worthy prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The film does not quite reach the magic of the original films (yet) – the setting, scenes, and story are missing the grandiosity of those films, and the characters not as compelling – but it is still a great high fantasy adventure. Those fans of the Lord of the Rings should very much enjoy the film, along with fans of high fantasy settings.

Final Score: 8.0/10

Side Note: I saw “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” in 3D, a viewing experience you know I am not a fan of. However, I have to say that this is the first film I’ve seen that the 3D does not actually detract from the viewing experience (outside of a few first scenes, where blurring occurs with some swift camera movement and quick shots), and at times actually looks quite nice. It is by no means necessary to see the film in 3D, but don’t feel hesitant if you are not a big 3D fan.

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