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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B
Special Effects: B+

Is Peter Jackson losing his touch, or what? I mean, don't get me wrong -- I'll say right up front that I'm giving this movie a B+. The problem is that, for him, at least when it comes to The Lord of the Rings, that's a step down. Then again, I don't suppose it's that big a surprise; King Kong (2005), after all, was also thoroughly entertaining yet far too long and self-indulgent at the expense of convincing special effects. So I guess I should amend what I said. Peter Jackson amazed with The Lord of the Rings but since then he's been consistently fun but not quite reaching his full potential.

So it is with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a bloated movie if ever there was one: I've never read any of these books but I can still tell that adapting three books into three movies makes a lot more sense than adapting one book (and, apparently later, appendices) into three movies. This Hobbit takes its dear sweet time.

That's not to say that it's ever boring. It really isn't. But it still feels like it's stuffed with filler. There are constant nods to the earlier movies, which are more distracting than they are puzzle pieces falling into place. Oh look, there's Elijah Wood as Frodo! It's like watching a reunion episode of a long-since canceled but beloved series.

Speaking of which, I can't say that I see the big deal with this whole 45-frames-per-second thing. Is it possible for a movie image to be too crisp? It creates a sort of hollowness effect, and a lack of warmth found in the picture of traditional film. There are moments that almost feel more like documentary footage than film footage, and isn't this supposed to be fantasy rather than reality? Much of this film is like watching a series on the BBC, just with a hell of a lot more special effects. I went to a theatre showing this only in 3D and wish I hadn't. I would have enjoyed this more in traditional 2D, but that's just how I am: I felt the same way about Avatar. Only the occasional truly exceptional movie -- Hugo; Life of Pi -- works in 3D. This one is not notably enhanced by it.

Even the effects aren't as good as the Lord of the Rings films, honestly. Those huge dog-monsters (wolves?) don't look much better than the terrible CGI wolves in The Twilight Saga: New Moon. That said, there are other moments when the effects are actually spectacular. There's one scene with a battle between rock-giants that I was kind of in awe of.

It doesn't sound like I liked this movie very much, does it? It's too long, the special effects could have been better, the cinematography is a little too enamored with its own swoopiness. But the story itself -- well, that did grab me. I got sucked into this movie, in spite of its faults, and in spite of its falling short in comparison to The Lord of the Rings, which is maybe not such a fair comparison anyway.

It's fun to see Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo Baggins. He's a great casting choice for a younger Ian Holm. Gandalf is supposed to be younger here but Ian McKellen is a decade older and looks it, but, whatever. Gandalf is still a delight.

There's a lot of dwarves. That's the basis of this story, really: dwarves have been forced out of their mountain kingdom by a dragon -- a different ultimate villain to be sure. We don't see a lot of that creature, actually; just glimpses at the very beginning and a tease at the end. Gandalf, for reasons thus far a mystery, has chosen Bilbo as the ideal "burglar" -- a small "halfling" with a scent unfamiliar to the dragon who can presumably slip in side the mountain kingdom and past the dragon. I'm still unclear as to what, exactly, he's burgling, or what he's to do once he gets inside, exactly. I guess I'll find out in the next installment.

There's a rivalry between dwarves and elves. This necessitates a meeting with the elves, whose help they need, which therefore allows for cameos by Kate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving. They're one stop among many on this journey back to the dwarves' mountain kingdom. Much like The Lord of the Rings, this is the story of a journey with a kind of Big Destiny at the end. It feels ever so slightly like a rerun, but it's just different enough to keep you intrigued.

And then, of course, there's Gollum. His appearance does indeed breathe fresh life into a movie faltering under its own bloatedness. There's a fantastic sequence with just Gollum and Bilbo playing a game of riddles, although I wonder how well it would hold up under repeat viewings. Even though he's easily the most obvious connection of all to the previous films, he's the most indispensable.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, then, gives me hope: maybe this is merely the set-up for what's to come. That is what happened with the other movies -- they improved with each installment in a way that actually enhanced the experience of the earlier ones. Perhaps that will happen here. If so, I do look forward to seeing more -- and that reflects well on this film.

Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen take their time in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY.

Overall: B+
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