“Bilbo Baggins, I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.”
– Gandalf the Grey
(Sir Ian McKellen)
Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings book trilogy was both hailed by fans and critics alike. The film trilogy took home a total of 17 Oscars including one for Best Picture during Return of the King’s sweep at Academy Awards.
Now 9 years after the release of that same movie, Peter Jackson guides us back to middle earth by releasing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a trilogy of movies Jackson will adapt based on Tolkien’s famed book, The Hobbit.
There once lived a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins. He lived a very comfortable lifestyle in the land of Bag End. One day, a wise old wizard named Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) came to the young hobbit (Martin Freeman) & offered him a chance to join a group of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in a quest to the Lonely Mountain, a land that these dwarves hold dear. As young Bilbo joins the pack of dwarves, will he be able to endure the perils that await him?
An Unexpected Journey is quite respectful to the legacy of the story that will follow this trilogy. This can be seen by the many nuances to the LOTR conflicts to come as well as its great use of well-timed cameos from Frodo, Galadriel, and that unnamed little creature that can be quite ‘precious’. I really liked how it maintains most of the spirit from the previous LOTR movies.
The acting was well done. The casting choice of Martin Freeman as young Bilbo Baggins was inspired as he made the character relatable as well as his resemblance of the older Bilbo played by Ian Holm. Other fine acting performances came from newcomers Richard Artimage and as well as middle earth veterans such as Sir Ian McKellen & Andy Serkis.
Another LOTR mainstay that was maintained during An Unexpected Journey was its execution of the technical aspects. The cinematography was stellar as it recaptured the grand scale of their journey while being able to artistically capture the intimate moments. [Case in point: The scene involving the dwarves singing the Misty Mountain song by fireside.]
An Unexpected Journey is lighter in mood than the LOTR films. Sometimes it works well but there are occasions that it doesn’t work out quite as well. Aside from minor things such a couple lines of dialogue & an overuse of the Mountain song, the movie was quite enjoyable as it maintains the magic of past (including a few moral gems & relatable characters) while establishing its own unique charm.
Now that I’ve finished the more important ‘what/why’, I’m going to get into the how, which is my opinion on the question, “How should I see this movie?” The question comes since Peter Jackson felt strongly about shooting An Unexpected Journey at 48 frames per second (fps), which version can be seen in the higher frame rate (HFR) presentation.
After seeing it in HFR & IMAX 3D, this is how I felt about it.
When I saw it in HFR, I felt that it worked. When it worked, it felt like an old time show or being part of another world. However, that feeling didn’t last long. Out of the entire runtime, I felt that it worked for about a total of 5 minutes (I’m rounding up to generous as it was more like 3 1/2). For the remainder of the time, I felt like I was watching a sped-up HDTV display in an electronics store.
When I saw it in 3D, the visual motion wasn’t much better. The jutting motions in certain scenes were terrible. The picture was blurry at times. Not the best, but I enjoyed the story enough that I was able to look past the imperfections of the medium.
[Side note: The paragraph above shows exactly why your story must be on point if you decide to use a gimmick like HFR or 3D, because if the story sucks, then people will leave, bad word of mouth spreads & your investment goes straight down the toilet and fast.
Gimmicks shouldn’t be selling movies anyway.]
If you are going to see this movie, I would see it in standard & save your money.
I’m personally not convinced that in that HFR is the way to go, especially for a movie you’re going to feel the effect of the gimmick not even for 1/20th of the film. Because of the 3D experience I had, I can’t justify saying going out & grabbing your 3D goggles to see this film, no matter how much I enjoyed the story.[Side note: Again, I don’t believe to dislike something for the sake of disliking something. I just get sick of the promises from the gimmicks when in reality, 4 times out of 5, you’re getting screwed over not only for a few bucks but ultimately the viewing experience that you hope to get.]
An Unexpected Journey has a great deal of fantasy violence as well as some disturbing or frightening images. However, if you’re already familiar with the Lord of the Rings movies, you’ve got nothing to worry about.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a literal return to middle earth. While I admit that it isn’t as great as the previous LOTR movies, it still made the difficult balance of having shades of LOTR while making it feel like its own film. I’m excited to see whether Jackson can continue & improve the series. A-
Fade to black…