Middle-earth returns to theaters with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and it’s a welcome home to J.R.R. Tolkien’s storytelling. I didn’t realize how much I missed Lord of the Rings on the big screen until seeing this beginning of another Peter Jackson trilogy. If you are a ‘Rings’ lover, then it’s time to put on that special pair of Hobbit feet you bought a few years back and sit yourself in a theater seat for nearly a three hour treat.
Its 60 years in the future when we see Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) writing the story of his past called “The Hobbit”. The time is somewhere between his return from his adventure to the introduction of Frodo as his nephew tying in the Lord of the Rings saga with his past. As he digresses the first of a new trilogy begins.
As the past unfolds the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, the richest of all Middle-earth, gets attacked by Smaug a fierce dragon. His fire forces the Dwarfs out of the castle scattering them all over Middle-earth. It’s a devastating blow to one of the mightiest inhabitants in the land.
Years have passed and we find young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) getting a surprise visit from the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). After a short conversation, Gandalf leaves with a promise to return. Later that evening Dwarfs start showing up at Bilbo’s door, 13 in all including Dwarf warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), turning the evening into an unwelcome party for the little hobbit. Gandalf enters and asks Bilbo to join the group as a burglar for a special mission to get back the Dwarf‘s land still occupied by Smaug. So begins an adventure that Bilbo will pass on in stories throughout the shire.
Middle-earth hasn’t changed much and Jackson pick pockets The Lord of the Rings trilogy with precursors to many of the events that happen in that saga. Many key points are revealed in the adventures that Bilbo tells the children of the Shire, the dwarfs fight with the Trolls, the introduction of Gollum’s ‘ring’, our first introduction to Rivendell and more.
The quest filled with silly Trolls, angry Goblins, brutal Orcs, nasty spiders and evil wolves moves along quickly following a somewhat sluggish, yet important build up. Director Peter Jackson keeps his characters interesting, battles exciting and the quest on point. Using some excellent 3D camerawork, Jackson guides his photographers through a labyrinth of stirring situations keeping the film lively and exhilarating. His actors are role perfect fleshing out each of the Dwarf’s personalities and strengths adding comedy and heroism as the script gets played out.
Talking about 3D, The Hobbit has it all including an amazing depth of field with enough eye popping scenes to keep the audience bobbing their heads to avoid fire ashes, arrows, battle swords, breaking gangways, and much more. The 3D format should be your choice to see this film as it’s more exciting, middle earth becomes more alive and the action sequences are beyond anything you’ve seen in Lord of the Rings.
Peter Jackson released the movie in two speed formats, 24 frames per second (fps) and the 48fps. After seeing both, I must say there is a remarkable difference in the clarity and quality. Most all films have been released in 24fps and those that have panning (the camera moves left to right at a fast speed) whether it be large vistas or during a field chase scene in an action film you get a blur as the camera moves its focal point. This blur is perfectly normal and you probably have never noticed it because the subject of the director remains in focus.
With the 48fps process however, that clarity of focus becomes widespread keeping the landscapes and the subject matter clear. What does this do for you? It’s a whole new experience to those who want their movies like their HD television sets. The beauty comes in the darker scenes where you can see more movement, battle scenes that get more detail of what’s happening around the central focal point, wide range of clarity in vistas and much more.
The drawbacks of the 48fps are twofold. First the clarity may be too clear. In the film I noticed that many of the background images, especially in the goblin cavern, are too clear. This may tend to detract your attention away from the main significance of the scene. The other downside will be the demand for 48fps which can be cost prohibitive, raise prices at the box-office (much like 3D) and insignificant in movies that don’t really need the format.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has been rated PG-13 by the MPAA for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. I will point out that there are many beheadings, gross expectorations, scary characters, gory battles and foul looking food. The film does have some subtitles when the Elves, Dwarfs and the Orcs are speaking to each other.
FINAL ANALYSIS: A magnificent film for us ‘Ring’ bearers and an amazing ride for everyone of recommended age. ★★★★★★
Additional Film Information:
Most Character Names A-Z: Azog (Pale Orc Chieftain), Balin (Dwarf), Bert Troll (Troll), Bifur (Dwarf), Bilbo (Fallohide Hobbit), Bofur (Dwarf), Bolg (Orc Chieftain), Bombur (Dwarf), Dori (Dwarf), Dwalin (Dwarf), Elrond (Half Elvin), Fili (Dwarf), Fimbul (Orc Hunter), Frodo (Fallohide Hobbit), Galadriel (Female Royal Elf), Gandalf (Wizard), Gloin (Dwarf), Goblin Scribe (Goblin), Gollum (“Smeagol”- Stoors Hobbit), Great Goblin (Orc Leader), Grinnah, Kili (Dwarf), Lindir (Elf of Rivendell), Necromancer (Evil Spirit), Nori (Dwarf), Oin (Dwarf), Ori (Dwarf), Radagast (Wizard), Saruman (Wizard), Smaug (Dragon), Thorin (Dwarf Leader), Thrain (Dwarf), Thranduil (Elvenking), Thror (Dwarf), William Troll (Troll), and Yazneg (Orc Hunter)