At last. Finally are we back in Middle-Earth. After several years in development hell, Peter Jackson takes us back to one of the most beloved and magical worlds in cinematic and literature history. Jackson did justice to J.R.R Tokien's The Lord of the Rings roughly ten years ago and the expectations for The Hobbit couldn't be any higher. Jackson decided to split The Hobbit into three separate films, including some other stuff Tolkien wrote, as well as Jackson's own artistic choices. And what we have here is the first film, An Unexpected Journey. The first step on this magical journey. For fear not, this is not the Lord of the Rings fans The Phantom Menace. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a magical film. It's not necessarily as good as The Lord of the Rings, but it's exactly what I hoped it would be. It's a whole different journey and it's a good one.
Opening up with Ian Holm returning as old Bilbo Baggins, as he tells the tale of how the dwarfs lost their home, Erebor, to the dragon Smaug, which is quickly followed by Elijah Wood returning as Frodo, talking to Bilbo. It all takes right before the opening scene of The Fellowship of the Ring. And from there I'm mostly sold. The opening prologues might occasionally feel a bit strange and overlong, but it's impossible to deny the impact it immediately stroke me with. I was back in the universe instantly. It's a powerful way to open the film and it got the exact right amount of majesty to it. The nostalgia, seeing it's about ten years since I saw this world at cinema, kick right in as well. Giving me a huge grin on my face, one that lasted through the entire film.
"Bilbo Baggins, I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure."
The film then quickly goes back 60 years and we're greeted by Martin Freeman as a younger Bilbo. From there it doesn't take along time until Gandalf and the 13 dwarfs arrives. And then we're on another journey. It's a long journey, seeing as the film runs close to three hours, but Peter Jackson never makes it boring. He knows perfectly how to handle the pace of this film by creating one brilliant scene after the other. One thing is that he manages to make every, single scene look absolutely fantastic, but another thing is that he is capable of filling them with something meaningful. Not a single scene feels wasted. That's an achievement, considering how long it is. It also makes me more relaxed towards the decision of telling the story over three films. He creates a film that's filled with humor, camp, creativity, excitement, action and adventures joy. Everything from three silly trolls, a meeting at Rivendell, thousands of goblins and riddles in the dark keeps me at the edge of my seat.
When it comes to the plot, my only, slight complaint about it has to do with Azog. I haven't delved into the literature in many years, so I don't exactly remember how everything went out according to Tolkien, so I'm not going to bother comparing. I'm also under the impression that Jackson is allowed to take some artistic freedom. However, I'm not 100 % impressed by Azog. For one, he looks too fake. Which probably has something to do with him being the only white orc in Middle-Earth. Secondly, all his grunting and tough "drink their blood"! dialogue gets way to repetitive and silly. He's a dull villain, really. Better is however the Goblin King, who is delightfully campy.
"Home is now behind you. The world is ahead."
Casting Martin Freeman as Bilbo was a masterstroke. He is brilliant in his role, portraying it with loads of charisma and he works as a fine humorous counterpoint to the more serious and grooming Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, who also delivers a fine performance. Very much welcome is the return of Ian McKellen as Gandalf. He have always been tremendous as Gandalf, and if his performance in Fellowship of the Ring was Oscar-worthy, then surely this one is as well, no matter the unlikeness. His dry wit, warmth and wisdom makes his character one of the most likable characters in film history. We also have several other dwarfs here, some gets more time in front of the screen than others, but that's natural thing when there are 13 dwarfs. To give them all more time would double the length of the film. A Six hours long film would be stretching it and there are still two more films to come. Which would give everyone a chance to shine. Also returning are Elijah Wood and Ian Holm in short cameo at the beginning, like I said earlier. We also get to see Hugo Weaving returning as Lord Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Lady Galadriel and the great Christopher Lee as Saruman. Then there is Andy Serkis as Gollum. I'll just say that the scene with him is incredible. The return of all these characters makes the film feel even more connected to The Lord of the Rings, making the film just more enjoyable.
The Hobbit feels therefore exactly like it's an Lord of the Rings film, yet it manages to venture out on its own paths. It's campier and funnier this time, and the darkness doesn't get fully explored. But that doesn't matter. It's Middle-Earth! It's magical. It's wonderful. It brings me straight into the universe and keeps me there. The beautiful cinematography, the familiar sets and music. The sweeping landscapes and adventurous feel wins me straight over. Just to be back in this wonderful world is a glorious thing. To be able to be a part of another adventure. If you don't go in to this film expecting to be brought along on the same journey, there is no doubt that you'll have a fantastic time. It's a different journey, but its familiarity to Lord of the Rings makes it magical.
I saw it in HFR 3D (High frame-rate 3D), meaning that instead of the usual 24 fps (frames per second), I saw it in 48 fps. The Hobbit introduces a new way of technology for films in which we see twice as many images each second. How each person would react to this is going to be very individual as I've read about people getting sick of the transisition. But it can't be denied that it makes scene look completely breathtaking. Particularly the majestic scenes were the camera flows across the landscape. It's clear as crystal. I've never seen something look so good and the combination with 3D makes this the best looking film I've seen. This technology should be applied to more films in the future. I loved it.
This was a hard review to write and I apologize if it didn't make much sense or if you didn't get much out of it. I've just returned from the screening and I'm a very excited. I'm a person who has to write about films the moment after I've seen it, or else I can't get out a word. It's rather difficult to write about films that you already have established a connection with trough other things. Therefore, it's hard to write about The Hobbit when I love The Lord of the Rings so much. So, to make it easy. The Hobbit ain't better than The Lord of the Rings, but it's nearly equally good. Almost.