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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” – Early Review (POSITIVE)

December 12, 2012

bilboNearly a decade now, Peter Jackson has finally returned to middle-Earth in what is being called one of the most anticipated films of the holiday season. Who’s ready to return to Hobbiton? Bag-end? Rivendale? The Misty Mountains? I can honestly say from a fans perspective that “An Unexpected Journey” was everything I was hoping it would be…a Peter Jackson fantasy adventure. The acting by the films leads; Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Sir, Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey, is everything a fan could’ve asked for. The only thing this fan wasn’t expecting to dislike was the odd choice of having this film shot and presented in 48 frames per second. Two words: Not Good.

Part one of the incredible tale about Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) leads the young hobbit into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (McKellen), Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their journey will take them into the wild landscape of old middle-Earth; treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must first escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum (Andy Serkis). Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo not only discovers depths of his and Gollum’s craftiness, the discovery of courage surprise him. Bilbo gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities, which will eventually lead down a path of the inevitable return of greater evil…

My biggest concern was the early reports about the movies lethargic pacing, and to be quite honest I found the pacing quite rewarding, it was the fastest two hours and forty-five minutes I’ve ever experienced. For me, there wasn’t a dull moment in that film. The movie took me on a journey of amazement, wonder, and thrilling excitment. The quest Bilbo takes is a simpler one compared to the one his nephew will endure 60 yrs ahead of him, but it’s a story about how the simpliest of persons can find bravery and courage hidden within them. Bilbo is an inspiring literary character and you cannot help but smile when he performs such noble acts, like taking on an Orc all by himself.

While it is indeed admirable for Peter Jackson to return to middle-Earth, it begs the question; does that same spark have it’s presence here as it did in the original films? Yes and no. On the one hand we’re thrown back years before the events of the “LOTR”, so getting to see these little bits of ‘sneak peeks’ if you will on what’s to come is nothing short of awesome. But, the movie has an issue with the ‘been there done that’-syndrome. Not that it’s neccisarily a BAD thing, but “LOTR” came first and what it accomplished in the early 2000’s was a miracle in modern cinema. The underlining and in-depth themes each film explored was a direct given that it would become the classic it is today. “An Unexpected Story” is basically revisiting those magical elements  that made the first films so charming. So, it’s great, but “LOTR” did it better.

Of course elephant in the room goes to the decision of 48FPS. Since the early 20’s, movies have been shot in 24FPS, now, suddenly PJ has decided that the day of 24FPS is over and 48 is the way of the future. And I’ll give PJ credit, he wanted to do something different, something to enhance the typical moviegoing experience; he wanted the films to look realistic, like real-life. Well, he accomplished it, but it doesn’t work in any real means of the word: ‘realistic’. If anything it’s hyper-realistic, and it leaves an unsettling and unnerving perspective on the film. The fluency is distracting, the fast paced action looks tacky and almost like an XBOX video game which takes it out of the make believe movie feel that 24FPS gives you. However, higher frame rate cinematography has an advantage with 3D, that typical slight blur you get from a normal 3D movie is no longer present here, it’s 100% crystal clear 3D, with intense demension! For that I’ve got to give it props for enhancing the 3D fad to it’s fullest potential. Now all we need for 3D is to get rid of those pesky glasses and then we’re set for life.

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 12.10.36 AMI gotta give a special props for the New Zealand-based special effects company WETA for their continuing prowess in special effects design, most notably the creature effects. I was nervous that the creatures would ALL be CGI characters, and while a majority are, we’re still given a respectful amount of photorealistic creature effects; the orcs to be more specific. But the other monsters of the films, the goblins, trolls, and the white Orc, even Gollum himself, the performance capture technology is outstanding and is beginning to merge with the photorealism aspect. The troll scene was especially impressive for the eyes.

While it may not be as FAN-FUCKING-TASTIC as the original trilogy, the firsty entry in the “Hobbit” trilogy is off to a good start to please the fans, and will surly give us a rightful bridge into the emmortal “LOTR” films. The movie takes advantage of the nostalgia feel, the opening scene where it’s just Frodo (Elijah Wood) & old Bilbo (Ian Holm) talking about the upcoming party the evening has in store for them, you can’t help but wheep with such fondness over that sentiment. See the movie in 2D 24FPS first, before you decide to see the 3DHFR version, I recommend people should see 3DHFR only so they know that movies shouldn’t be presented this way EVER.

3D GRADE: A-

MOVIE GRADE: B

OVERALL GRADE: B+

Special Thanks to Taylor Rabow & Jamie Greenhut for attending the screening and sharing their input.

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