The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Rating: ****
Release Date: 12/14/12
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood

The great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) with a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Thorin intends to reclaim his grandfather's house and throne by defeating the dragon Smaug, and Gandalf has chosen Bilbo to accompany the dwarves on their quest, much to everyone's dismay. Bilbo reluctantly agrees and sets out on his greatest adventure, putting into motion the events that "Lord Of The Rings" is founded upon. While Bilbo is a misfit with no field knowledge or combat experience, he manages to save the dwarves on several occasions, earning their respect and gratitude. The film ends with Thorin and company about to enter Murkwood Forest.

While it's always enjoyable to revisit Middle Earth, the film is overly long and overstays its welcome. I find it odd that Peter Jackson decided to take the shortest book in the LOTR series and break it into three films, and much of "An Unexpected Journey" feels like unnecessary filler material as a result. There are also several things in the film that I don't remember from the book at all, which makes me wonder how much tinkering Jackson did with the source material. Since "The Hobbit" was originally intended to be a children's story, the tone is considerably more lighthearted and kid friendly. I take no issues with that, but I found the various jokes and one-liners to be annoying and unnecessary. To be fair, Jackson's other LOTR films suffered from this as well. It's interesting to compare this to the 1978 animated film, which took a more mature approach and was completely humorless.

Visually, the film is superb and on par with the other LOTR films. Having Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprise their roles as Bilbo and Frodo creates an excellent bridge between LOTR and "The Hobbit", and the transition is seamless. Martin Freeman is superb as the young Bilbo Baggins, and it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the role. Ian McKellen plays Gandalf once again to great effect, and you really get a sense of his sly and almost sinister craftiness this time around. Saruman (Christopher Lee), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) appear in cameos to discuss various matters of importance, which plays out nicely. Thorin is played by a fierce and sexy Richard Armitage, and his performance is delightful. Unfortunately, none of the other dwarves are particularly noteworthy.

The film is beautifully shot and a marvel to behold. The scenery is breathtaking and the visual effects are very good. A major point of contention with the film is that Peter Jackson shot it at 48 frames per second, which eliminates a lot of motion blur and creates a "hyper-realistic" look. I saw the 2D version which was projected at "normal" speed and it looked just fine to me, but the 48 fps 3D version has been largely hated by critics. For me, the film suffers most in the pacing department. Just about everything plays out too long and could be tightened up, and some pieces could be cut out altogether. It feels as though Jackson has fallen in love with the material a little too much, and doesn't want to miss a single detail. Unfortunately, this can lead to alienating the audience, much like a Quentin Tarantino film. I also worry about the next two films, as they will require additional padding and embellishment to stand on their own. Regardless, I'm sure the journey will be an enjoyable one, and one should rejoice in the fact that "The Hobbit" is getting a cinematic treatment in the first place.