Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Written by:Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Scott, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
Released: December 26, 2012
Grade: B- (or 2.5 out of 5)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Let’s get this frame rate thing out of the way first.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first major film to have been shot using 48 frames per second.  Films are traditionally made using 24 frames per second but director Peter Jackson has always considered himself at the forefront of movie technology and wanted to give audiences a “different experience”.

He’s right about that.  It certainly looks different.  I’m not sure it’s to the film’s benefit, however.  I realise it takes a little while to adjust (things look like they’re in fast-mo when the camera pans) but my major concern is that in making things look “more real”, it has made the special effects look more obvious.

There’s a scene where Radagast the Brown (an eccentric wizard) is on a make-shift sled while being chased by a series of large wolves.  The graphics look like something from a video game.  It’s almost cartoonish in quality and you know what you’re seeing is fake.

It’ll be interesting to hear the audience reaction to 48 frames per second and whether this format thrives in the same way that 3D has since Avatar.  The good news is that at least we have a choice here.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is being screened in cinemas using both frame rates.  It’s up to you which one you want to see.

As for the film itself, I can’t help but be disappointed.  On Boxing Day morning from 2001 to 2003, you would have found me sitting in a packed theatre and watching the latest instalment in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  I loved all of the films and was enthralled by Frodo’s quest and the many complex storylines.  The three films made just under $3 billion at the international box-office and won 17 Academy Awards.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just isn’t the same.  At the one hour mark, I opened my notepad and wrote the comment – “something is going to happen, right?”  Too much time is wasted in Bilbo’s house discussing the possible adventure and introducing the characters.

It left me questioning Jackson’s recent decision to split J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel into three films as opposed to two.  We all know his key motive is cash (yay, more box office revenue) but I still hoped there’d be enough material to sustain three movies.  I was wrong.

We eventually get to the action when our team of heroes leave Bag End, the home of the Hobbits, and set off for the Lonely Mountain.  There’s Bilbo the Hobbit (Freeman), Gandalf the Wizard (McKellan) and 13 Dwarves.  Their plan is to defeat the dragon that lives inside the mountain and reclaim the territory on behalf of the Dwarves.

Does any of that actually happen?  Nope.  That’ll be saved for the second and third films.  An Unexpected Journey simply follows them trekking across the mountainous countryside and facing off against the series of adversaries.  Oh, and there’s a quick stop over in the beautiful city of Rivendell which allows the film to reintroduce Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett for a few minutes.

I’m sounding overly cynical but the film does have its positives.  There is a terrific sequence late in the film which marks the arrival of Gollum – the small, devious creature who many will remember from the The Lord Of The Rings trilogy.  Gollum’s interaction with Bilbo is fun and entertaining.  It’s far more enjoyable than hearing the drawn-out backstory of the dull Dwarves.

Aside from the choice of frame rate, the production values are again superb.  It’s also great to see composer Howard Shore craft a new score that mixes the music from The Lord Of The Rings films with a couple of new themes.  I’m sure the film will pick up some Oscar nominations within the technical categories.

Lacking the interesting characters and intriguing subplots that made the earlier trilogy so engaging, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is too flat, too slow.  Hopefully Peter Jackson decides to release a director’s cut on DVD… which is one hour shorter.