This one I recommend.

This one I recommend.

A band of dwarves show up uninvited in the home of Bilbo Baggins.

A band of dwarves show up uninvited in the home of Bilbo Baggins.

Flawed but still great

Flawed but still great

So, here it is. The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey. The long awaited prequel film to the Lord of The Rings trilogy. One of , if not the most anticipated film of this year. It’s finally arrived and spawned mixed reactions regarding it’s more quirky and comical tone, its length and Peter Jackson’s unusual choice to present it to us 48 frames per second. More on that in a bit. First of all, let me assure you that I did enjoy this film.

We were skeptical before going to see this. My father, for instance, thought Peter Jackson was going to become the next George Lucas by getting too much control and creating an inferior prequel trilogy to a great franchise. True, J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Hobbit is a much shorter novel than any of the Lord of The Rings books, so the decision to still adapt it into a trilogy of films that clock in around three hours each is a pretty baffling one.

But what’s the plot? Well, in the land of Shire, Middle Earth, an old hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is writing his autobiography about the things he encountered many years ago with a band of dwarves and his friend, the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). Back then he was played by Martin Freeman and was at first reluctant to join Gandalf and the dwarves in their quest to reclaim a dwarven mine from the clutches of an evil dragon, but eventually comes to realize that a large dose of adventure is just what this little hobbit needs in his relatively uneventful life. Is it obvious yet that this film has more of a fairy tale-esque tone than the other three significantly more fantasy epic-esque films?

During their journey they take pauses in several familiar areas from the other films. In Rivendell, home of the Elves, the company is greeted by Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Gandalf speaks for a bit with Elf lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), making this the first time we get to see these two characters interact. Even a member of his wizard order, Saruman the White (Christopher Lee) appears, giving us an interesting glimpse of back when he wasn’t a bad guy. One of the more irritating characters the company runs into, though, is yet another wizard, Radagast the Brown (Played by The Seventh Doctor himself, Sylvester McCoy). I didn’t mind him so much myself, but I can tell that for some he will be the Jar-Jar Binks of Lord of The Rings, even if he provides some nifty Sauron foreshadowing.

Gollum, looking better than ever.

Gollum, looking better than ever.

But a character that will always be nice to meet again is Gollum, the wretched little creature portrayed through the art of motion-capture by the great Andy Serkis, and the technology used to create him has only gotten more advanced and impressive. Some will find that the scene where he plays riddles with Bilbo, ulitmately resulting in Bilbo getting his hands on the ring of Sauron which tormented Gollum those years, might go on a bit too long, but the scene is so well-made and Gollum is so much fun to look at that I don’t mind this. He looks amazing! When it comes to the designs of other characters, however, my enthusiasm inches downards.

The dwarves, lead by one Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are oddly designed and quirky-looking on top of being bereft of any particularly defining personalities, aside from being gluttonous, singing goofballs, and the Orcs and goblins look more like CGI creations than people in make-up this time around. This is especially noticalbe with the Orc leader Azog (Manu Bennett), who is forgettable enough a villain that I was unable to rememeber his name after seeing the film. Much more memorable is the evil Goblin King (Barry Humphries) but that’s because he distracts the viewer with his scrotum chin. In crystal clear HD, no less. Ew.

That’s no doubt one of the reason this film feels more fake than the Lord of The Rings trilogy – the frame rate and the clarity of it all. Not only does it feel like you’re watching a sped-up version of the film that doesn’t look cinematic nor realistic, but the fact that it’s so clear makes it much too easy to distinguish the prosthetics and make-up from the real stuff, as well as notice imperfections in the CGI and even the acting at times. I’d like to rewatch this in 24 frames per second. Perhaps it would be less jarring and more entertaining? I’d probably drop the 3D too since – surprise, surprise – it didn’t really do much for me.

Gandalf and Galadriel in Rivendell.

Gandalf and Galadriel in Rivendell.

I know it’s beginning to seem like I hated An Unexpected Journey and I can assure you that I did enjoy it quite a bit after the slow first third of the film had passed and I’d gotten used to the 48 frames, one of the biggest reasons being The Hobbit himself – Bilbo Baggins. I may get a lot of flack for writing this, but honestly, I think Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is a funnier, more relatable and all around better protagonist than Elijah Wood‘s Frodo or Viggo Mortensen‘s Aragorn. Don’t get me wrong, I like them also, but Martin Freeman has a certain charm about him that more succesfully carries the whole film and offers us a multitude of memorable scenes and lines. He is one of the reasons I’m thinking that yeah, this is going to be a fun little trilogy after all.

So, okay – The Hobbit isn’t really The Lord of The Rings. It’s more over-the-top (the scene with the trolls felt like something out of Simon The Sorcerer) and not as dramatic and impressive, but being only slightly below greatness is still pretty damn good. I say that you should definitely go see The Hobbit, especially if you want to see your favourite characters from Middle Earth, set to some lovely Howard Shore music (true, some tracks are recycled from the original trilogy, but there’s still some great new stuff), on the big screen again, because either way, seeing them all again is pretty fantastic. Preferably not in 48 frames per second, though.

Also, that one close-up of Gollum after he loses the ring – that is just heartbreaking. No screaming, no roaring, just a tear rolling down his chin as he’s just realized that he lost his precious forever. Come on, Peter Jackson, don’t do this to us, especially to a character whose demise we already know. Not cool, Peter. Not cool.

4.5/5 whatever

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