Friday, December 14, 2012
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - Movie Review
It's really not accurate to compare The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to other prequels, as the book it's based on was actually written before The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is not as much of a prequel as much as The Lord of the Rings was a sequel to it. I've actually never read The Hobbit, and only have a vague recollection of seeing the animated feature as a kid, so I was going into this pretty cold as far as what the story was about.
The movie's backstory is spelled out in the first few minutes. The dwarven city of Erebor is overrun by the dragon Smaug, and the Dwarves are forced from their homes and into a nomadic existence. The film is framed as an older Bilbo is writing his story on his birthday (as seen in The Fellowship of The Ring), allowing them to link the trilogies together on screen, but it also gives Peter Jackson an excuse to have Ian Holm and Elijah Wood briefly reprise their roles as Bilbo and Frodo. I have to say it was nice seeing those two again and it gave me a comfortable feeling as the story began.
We then go back to a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) as he meets Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and is forced to host a party of Dwarves as they assemble and await their leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage). The Dwarves outline their plan on reclaim Erebor, and Gandalf explains why Bilbo was chosen as the fourteenth member of their party. Bilbo initially refuses to join, but decides to embrace the adventure and come along.
I could keep talking about the plot, but there so much going on that I could be here all day. I'm sure many of you are wondering how The Hobbit was stretched into three films (up until last Summer, it was originally planned for two). From what I understand, Peter Jackson is doing a combination of adding things that are just kind of hinted at or mentioned in the appendices, or in some cases just outright making Middle Earth-type stuff up. This isn't strictly going to be the story of The Hobbit anymore. Again, as I haven't read the book I can't comment on how faithful it all is. However, I can say that the movie did feel stretched out at times (it's nearly three hours), and there were a few things introduced that weren't fully developed or felt thrown in. We'll see if there's a payoff to these things in the later movies. I trust Peter Jackson's direction, and I don't think the next films will disappoint.
Despite the stretched feeling, I didn't really mind the pacing. I was never bored or felt like it was too long. It all felt very similar to The Fellowship of the Ring, where I wasn't totally into the film, but understood how it was building towards something. That's pretty much how I felt here, only this time I was actually disappointed it was ending, where with Fellowship I could felt like I could take it or leave it. I want to see how this is all going to play out.
Another thing that kind of disappointed me was how familiar it all felt. Sure this is the same world, so the look, locations and sounds should be familiar, but at times I felt like I was just watching recycled stuff from the first trilogy. Much of the music is ripped straight from the other films, as well as some of creatures and even plot elements.
I saw this in IMAX 3D, and while I liked seeing it in the IMAX format, I didn't think the 3D was anything special. I did see this in the HFR format though, so lets talk about that for a bit. The Hobbit was filmed at a higher frame rate: 48-frames-per-second. Films are normally done at 24-frames-per-second, which causes more of a motion blur and gives films that cinematic quality we're used to. Since we're watching the film at higher frame rate, there's no blur at all and it has a super clean look about it. If you own a Samsung TV, it's pretty much the same effect that the Auto Motion feature gives you. I've had a Samsung 3D TV for a little over a year now, so I've gotten used to the way it looks. Despite being used to the effect, I still found the 48-fps a little distracting in the opening minutes of The Hobbit. There were times where things looked artificially sped up, which was a little off putting. You may also notice that a lot of the effects-driven sequences have a video game look about them. Overall, the high frame rate didn't bug me that much, and I think you'll get used it as I did. It's probably just going to depend on how much of purist you are. There is a standard frame rate version of the film in theaters, and depending on your location, this may be the only thing offered to you anyway, so this whole HFR thing may be moot.
The Hobbit does look great, and the effects are even better than in the first trilogy. Nothing showcases this more than when Gollum finally shows up. Gollum and Bilbo's scene is the highlight of the film and was worth the price of admission alone. Andy Serkis is amazing again and I wish he'd get more recognition for the work he does.
Despite the large party involved in the adventure, the cast of The Hobbit really isn't all that large (it scrolls by rather quickly in credits). The story mainly focuses on Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin, and I thought the performances Freeman, McKellen and Armitage are all fine. I've always liked Martin Freeman and I think he did a good job as Bilbo. It helps that as great as Ian Holm is, Bilbo wasn't a large character in the previous films, so it doesn't feel like Freeman is trying to live up a previous performance or hard large, fake feet-shoes to fill.
Another thing I liked was that it wasn't as jokey or silly as the trailers made me fear. I was really worried that they were going to go for a lot of silly or slapstick humor, especially when the Dwarves were involved, but there are very few laughs to be had and the overall tone of the film was serious. It also helps that the individual Dwarves are developed to the point where they are more than just background characters.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a welcome return to Middle-Earth. If you aren't already a fan of The Lord of the Rings, I don't think it's going to do anything to make you one though. It is a gorgeous film (regardless of the format you see it in), has great effects, and thrilling action. While it's probably a little too long, it's still entertaining and will leave you looking forward to the next installment. You don't need to see it in 3D, but I do recommend seeing it in the theater.
4 (out of 5) Death Stars