Certain liberties have been taken in order to stretch the Hobbit from a single book into three full length feature films. This is a double-edged blade for true blue fans of the novel. While it does offer nearly a three hour-long visual spectacle, it also inserts prolonged establishing shots filled with merry-making and antics. It is not surprising that the film fares differently for fans of the books and those who only know of Tolkien’s masterpiece through the movies.
An Unexpected Length
While we were charmed by it in general, it was hard to ignore the continuous scene stretching just to showcase An Unexpected Journey's graphics. And although parts foreshadowing the events in Lord of the Rings is essential in bridging the two movie trilogies, we found some of these to be a tad forced and tedious. Not only do the disjointed scenes take away from the core storyline of The Hobbit, it's also unneeded spoon feeding -- something that could have been reserved for the extended edition Blu-ray. Nevertheless, the product of Peter Jackson's vision has enough endearing moments to touch the hearts of even the most picky of audiences.
Back to the Shire
As the reluctant hero of this tale, Bilbo Baggins teams up with an unlikely band of dwarves to reclaim their home. It was a plan orchestrated by none other than the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), son of Thrain and the King under the Mountain, the company will journey through the treacherous plains of Middle-Earth where they have to contend with Orcs, ravenous Trolls and Giant Spiders; escape from relentless Wargs; and find a way slip past battling stone giants. This story also tells of an ancient evil awakening in Dol Guldur and of Bilbo's fateful encounter with the creature known as Gollum (Andy Serkis).
Let’s Talk Film
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was shot in 48 frames-per-second. That's basically double the frame rate of the original movie trilogy, leading to the film's hyper-realistic look. The CGI and prosthetics remain as believable as they were the first time around, though with Bilbo as this film's central character, we're given a glimpse of a much sunnier Middle Earth. With unrivaled costume design and the magic of Peter Jackson's camera work, every setting feels different. The music complements the mood perfectly, without standing out too much that they overpower the dialogue. Of course the song "Misty Mountains" performed by Richard Armitage with the dwarf cast fits as a theme to a tee. Even with the controversy surrounding the decision to make use of HFR (High Frame Rate), the movie is worth a look if only to have a point of comparison.
The acting was top-notch, with cast members excelling in each of their roles. There were some who outshone the rest, though perhaps that was the intended effect. This is most apparent when it comes to the company of dwarves, with the performance of Richard Armitage being especially impressive during the flashback scene. Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner were equally noteworthy in their roles as Fili and Kili. Freeman, of course, gives a masterful performance as young Bilbo. He gives life to the story through even the smallest of nuances, giving Bilbo an everyman sort of appeal. That's not to say that he's easily overlooked or is unexceptional, it's just that he's relatable and that only makes him even more charming.
The First Shaky Step
Being a prequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings, it is understandable that expectations were at an all time high. In general, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lives up to expectations. We only really have qualms over the film's erratic pacing. Key scenes such as Bilbo's encounter with Gollum could have been stretched by shaving a few minutes off the Lord of the Rings-centric events in Rivendell. But overlong scenes or not, it's hard to deny An Unexpected Journey's overall quality.