REVIEW – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Heigh ho
Review by Vives Anunciacion
Published Inquirer Libre December 17, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by Peter Jackson
Based on the book by JRR Tolkien

Far over the misty mountains cold, we must away and see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in groundbreaking 48fps High Frame Rate (at P320 a ticket.) Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-earth is one-half beautiful and grand, one-half voluble and belabored.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked it. I just found it lengthy. And violent, for a “G” rating. Dear me, it has too many slashed stomachs, decapitated heads and stabs in the chest for that rating, MTRCB, even if those are goblins. If you can’t identify violence on screen, don’t bother rating a film.

Back to Middle-earth: a young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is drawn into joining a band of 13 dwarves by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) in a quest to retake the dwarf kingdom-under-the-mountain Erebor from the grasp of the nasty dragon Smaug. Their journey, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) takes them from high mountains to goblin caverns, where Bilbo finds a small gold trinket and encounters the strange creature, Gollum (Andy Serkis.)

Compared to Frodo and Sam’s 15,000-km trek to Mordor, this is a trip to the street-corner 7-11. To the confused, The Hobbit was first published in 1937 as a children’s book and The Lord of the Rings, divided into three books, is the sequel.

Eleven years after The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and many obstacles after, The Hobbit has been expanded into three parts, namely: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and There and Back Again (2014.) This first installment covers the first few chapters of the book. In order to extend this short narrative for the film, new characters are added as conflict (Azog and his orc band) as well as scenes from other Tolkien texts (such as the White Council meeting.)

This is the first film to be commercially released in 48 frames per second (fps), twice the frame rate of celluloid which we have been watching for 100 years now. This is intermediate technology – the goal is establish 60 fps as the future of cinema. 60 fps is the approximate frame rate of the human eye, and I have seen a demonstration of 60 fps. It looks surreal, like looking out your window but seeing a different world. That is the goal of this new technology, and The Hobbit is the movie that stands at the door of that future.

Having said that, Peter Jackson retains most of the grand spectacle he showed us in LOTR but adds more realistic computer effects. And at 48fps, the creatures (Gollum, Azog, the wargs and the Goblin King) are marvelously life-like. However, this hobbit has the book’s words and sentiment, but has no drive. Like LOTR, it starts with a prologue, has a different set of Fellowship, also goes down the mountain – and regrettably, reuses LOTR’s musical themes. More with the visuals, less with the heart.

The highlight of the film is a small scene about riddles between Bilbo and Gollum (actors Freeman and Serkis do wonders to their characters, even after we’ve seen the older Bilbo and Gollum in LOTR.) Even while a war is raging somewhere above them, the fate of Middle-earth is decided in a childish game.

[Additional unpublished]

For a fan of the series and the books, I was a little annoyed – not disappointed – but I thought this felt like a committee made the movie to ensure that the new trilogy would have enough “Middle-earth” for everyone. Until we’ve seen the last part of this series, it’s hard to judge whether the decision to expand the short book into a trilogy was necessary, since we all know that the original plan was to make two movies instead of three. The addition and expansion of Radagast in Unfinished Journey (not in the book, and only a mention in the entire Tolkien compendium) implies that the Brown wizard shall reappear for further involvement in the next chapters. The same can be said of that awkwardly-blocked, ill-written White Council scene. As far as I can understand the texts (by that I mean the rest of the Tolkien books), the *very* few instances that the While Council convened was to discuss matters that affected the fate of Middle-earth (the rising power in Dol-Guldur for instance.) Meaning, the Council convened with an existing agenda. In the movie, there was no topic aside from Gandalf’s involvement in the quest of the dwarves, not until Gandalf takes out the Morgul blade that the turn of events become portentous. The only point of this scene is 1. Include a strong female character in the generally all-male film, and 2. Reintroduce the “guardians of Middle-earth” for their reappearance in (most likely) the third film (There and Back Again.) If there’s any disappointment in me regarding Unexpected Journey, it would be Howard Shore’s music, which seemed to have been placed as an after-thought when post production was hurrying to finish the film. There are only two notable new pieces: the Dwarf theme (first heard in part in the teaser trailer), and the Eagles theme with the boy vocals near the end. Yes I understand that the events of The Hobbit would shape the War of the Ring, but placing almost all the themes in Lord of the Rings (including the cue when Barad-dur falls), left me scratching my head why. [end of additions]

Overall, An Unexpected Journey is a lengthy reintroduction to Middle-earth, the point of which is to do just that – reintroduce. It’s a welcome return, but I need not be reminded that the Orcist is the Goblin-cleaving Elvish sword from Gondolin three times over.

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One thought on “REVIEW – The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. Post-mortem:
    I’ve seen the Extended Edition of this which explains the White Council a little more. Now the scene makes total sense.

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