It’s been nearly 12 years since director Peter Jackson had released his critically acclaimed and multiple Oscar-winning adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy series THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy unto the world. I rewatched the trilogy again recently having not seen them for a number of years and I can definitely say that without a shred of doubt in my mind that it is still one of the greatest trilogies of all time (second only to the original STAR WARS trilogy). It’s an amazing series of films that still thrill me just as much today as they did when they first came out between 2001-2003 (all three films tied as my number 1 pick as the best film of the 00’s). This series has everything that I would ever want in a film and I know that it is one that is going to be remembered decades from now as one of the best films ever made. So you can say that Peter Jackson had a lot to live up to when he decided to return to the world of Middle Earth by adapting Tolkien’s prequel novel THE HOBBIT into a new trilogy of films. I wondered and worried over whether if he would be able to recapture the magic that the first trilogy had. So was Jackson able to deliver? Well, read on and find out!
Set 60 years before the events of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, the film tells the story of a young hobbit by the name of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). One day he unwilling gets chosen by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to join him on a quest that he is going on with a group of thirteen Dwarves, who are led by legendary Dwarf warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Artimage). Their quest is to travel to the Lonely Mountain and to help the Dwarves take back their home from an evil dragon named Smaug, who stole their Dwarve’s kingdom from them many years before. At first Bilbo doesn’t want anything to do with them and refuses to join them. After a while, Bilbo comes around to the idea and eventually joins Gandalf, Thorin and the other Dwarves on their quest. Along the way they encounter many adventures and dangers on their journey.
I have to admit that while I was definitely excited for this first chapter of THE HOBBIT trilogy, I also quite apprehensive as well. While it was far from a troubled production, I was worried that director Peter Jackson wouldn’t have been able to deliver with this film due to some rather controversal creative decisions. The main ones being the decision to adapted the novel into three films instead of just two films as he was originally intending (while I admit that I’ve never read the novel but even then I didn’t see the point in adapting one book into three films when you can easily do it in maybe one or two films) and as well as releasing the film in some cinemas in the experimental high frame rate of 48fps instead of the standard 24fps since all films are done in that rate. Plus also shooting the film in 3D (I’ve never had a problem with the format but I know that a lot of people do). So you can definitely see that why I would be a bit worried. But to my relief, Jackson was able to overcome some of those aspects by delivering a hugely entertaining and wonderfully made if flawed fantasy film that I had a great time from the very first frame to the very last. It was great coming back to this world and these characters. However I should say that if you go in expecting the film to be exactly like or be on the level of LOTR trilogy, you might end up being a little bit disappointed. This film is definitely a much more smaller scaled, less complex and more of a lighthearted fantasy adventure film when compared to that trilogy (although it still does have its serious and epic moments, especially towards the end). The direction from Jackson was great, even though this film tonally much different from his LOTR trilogy he still brings over the same directing qualities that he did in that series over to this one. He directs the film with his trademark enthusiasm, skill and visual flair. You can tell that he is having a complete ball making this film and there are some extremely well directed scenes (highlights including the escape from the Goblin City sequence and as well as Bilbo’s game of riddles with Gollum).
Another thing I really enjoyed about the film was the cast, which was a mixture of both old and new faces. Martin Freeman does a great job in taking over role of Bilbo Baggins from Ian Holm (who also actually comes back to reprise his role in the film’s epilogue). I really enjoyed his performance and his character’s arc is quite compelling. Ian McKellen is back to play his signature role as Gandalf the Grey and it was like he never left, he was wonderful once again and it was great seeing him play this character. Also it was nice to see Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm and Elijah Wood back in their roles from the LOTR trilogy this oneas well, even if they were only in a few scenes. However the one stood to me from the returning cast was, of course, Andy Serkis as Gollum. He gives another absolutely fantastic performance once again and he definitely one of the film’s highlights (also the CGI creation of Gollum is still pretty amazing). So how about the new cast members? of the new cast, the one who stood out the most was Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield. He was terrific and brought a commanding presence to his role. The rest of the cast who played the roles of the Dwarves were all fine, even if they didn’t get much to do. Although Ken Stott (who played Balin) and James Nesbitt (who played Bofur) did get a chance to turn in some solid work since they had more screen time than the others. Also the script by Jackson and his collaborators Fran Wash, Phillipa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro (who was original going to direct this film at one time) was nicely written, Andrew Lesnie’s cinematography was amazing (this definitely up there as one of the best looking films of the 2012), the production/costume designs were stellar, the CGI was great, the score by Howard Shore was beautifully done and the 3D was actually pretty well done (it’s not on the level the 3D in AVATAR or HUGO, but it was still quite effective).
Despite all the things that liked bout it, I still have to admit that THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is quite a flawed film. One of my main criticisms is that I believe that the film could have easily have been trimmed by at lest 15-20 minutes. While the film is well paced for most part, there were a couple of times where some scenes lingered on for far too long that they started to become a bit tedious. Especially in the first act where Bilbo has the Dwarves staying at his house, that entire section kind of grinds the film to a halt for a while and it goes on way longer than necessary. If these scenes had cut some of the fat, it would have been a tighter and better paced film. Also while it was quite funny at times, there were times where the humour wasn’t really all that funny and some moments fell flat. Plus other than the central characters, I felt that most of the Dwarf characters in the group weren’t really developed that much at all as characters (since this is the 1st film in a trilogy, hopefully they’ll be developed more in the sequels). Plus I didn’t like the scene where the company meet some Mountain Trolls, I thought the Trolls themselves were a bit annoying.
Now one thing you are probably wondering if I did see this in its 48fps format? As a matter of fact, I did. So how was it you may ask? Well, it was kind of a mix bag to be honest. I must admit it was rather off-putting at first seeing the film in this format since I’m very much use to films being 24fps and all but I did start to get use to it after at lest 10-15 minutes or so, even then it was still a rather weird experience. In terms of positives, I thought that it made the film look absolutely gorgeous at times and bought a lot of clarity and definition to a lot of scenes. It even made the CGI effects look more spectacular and real (well, in my opinion anyway. Some people will most likely disagree with me on that). However it also did not work at times at all. I know that it’s meant to make the film look more realistic but I felt at times that the format took away the scope of film and it didn’t feel quite as cinematic to me. Also the some of the action set-pieces, the way that they were shot and how the characters moved around in the scene looked really weird and jarring because it looks as though that the they sped up the speed in those scenes. I’m not going to lie, I couldn’t help but hear the Benny Hill in my head every time that this moments happened (that’s what the scenes reminded of). Now after all that, would I recommend everyone to check out the 48fps version? Honestly, that is a tough question. While there were some qualities that I didn’t think worked but at the same time it did make the film a rather interesting experience in showcasing whether or not this format would work. It’s definitely one that people are either going to like or really hate (it’ll most likely be latter, which I wouldn’t blame them). But for my honest opinion, I would suggest everyone to check it out in its normal 24fps first and if you’re interested to see what all the fuss is about, then check out the 48fps version.
Overall while THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY has some problematic elements, it was still a pretty damn good film that I had a great time with nonetheless. If you fan are a fan of the LOTR trilogy, you will definitely get a kick out of this film. I can definitely say that I can’t wait to see the second chapter next year.
– Bede Jermyn