The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Movie Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Movie Review

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Adam Brown, Aidan Turner, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Dean O'Gorman, Barry Humphries, Graham McTavish, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Hambleton, William Kircher, Jed Brophy,John Callen, Mark Hadlow

Director: Peter Jackson

Finally, it's here - the prequel to the massive success (and NZ institution) that was The Lord of The Rings.
Based of course on the JRR Tolkein book, The Hobbit, and now split into 3 films, there's a whole stack of expectation on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey itself and also, the new technology 48 FPS being pioneered and delivered by Sir Peter Jackson.

(Get pictures from the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington)

Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit movie and Sir Ian McKellen is back reprising his role as Gandalf the Grey in this. Baggins, a Hobbit, lives in Bag-End, and enjoys the quiet life - so when Gandalf shows up on his doorstep, offering him a chance to be involved in an adventure, Bilbo politely, but firmly refuses.

Later that evening, a company of 13 dwarves gradually show up at his homestead, ransacking his pantry and determined that Bilbo will join them on their quest - to reclaim treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug and to help Thorin Oakenshield (a broody Richard Armitage) take back his lost kingdom of Erebor.

Against his every fibre of being, Bilbo finds himself going on this adventure - a trip which will change them all forever....

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an astonishing and ground-breaking piece of film-making.

It's hard not to get past how it's presented first and foremost.

The 48 frames per second resolution means that it looks incredibly clear, hyper-real and ultra-defined. It's the way of the future clearly and while it takes a little to adjust to the very high resolution, once you have you're in for a visual treat. It's almost as if you've stepped through the screen and are in the thick of the action itself - it's like having a conversation with someone in front of you and finding they've been touched up with Photoshop tools, their colours heightened and the very essence of being increased. It's an astonishing visual touch and is no wonder WETA's already in with a chance of getting an Oscar special effects nod - and it really does raise the bar for FX-driven films. Whether director James Cameron will embrace it for the Avatar sequels remains to be seen - but this is the way of the future and it's hard to see how future genre films such as this will be able to keep up if they don't adapt. (Peter Jackson's hinted at the possibility of dimensionalising the Lord of The Rings trilogy - it'll be interesting to see if he does go back and give them a similar sheen and gloss.)

That said, though, it's not all perfect on the FX front - while the Goblin Kingdom looks impressive, some of the shots when Gandalf and the gang ride a walkway down to try and escape don't quite fit together as well as they could, lacking the cohesive FX touches - and likewise, when the first reveal of Rivendell comes, it looks a little too much like a painting in the background, with action superimposed on the front. To be honest, though, these are minor niggles of the process rather than glaring FX distractions.

As for the human side of the film, Martin Freeman easily stands (a little) head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. His Bilbo is a perfect combination of deadpan well-timed comedy, Englishness and a hint of a Hobbit about to grow up. Plus, having seen Martin Freeman as Bilbo, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the role. The sequence where he riddles with Gollum is just astounding as a two-hander and is a real stand out of the film; particularly for Andy Serkis' work as Gollum, as he runs the gamut from childish glee to murderous malice in his game.

The cast of dwarves are a little too numerous to get much time in the spotlight in this first outing, but I suspect that will come in the following films - and all of them have real potential. There's also plenty of the feel of setting events up - with showdowns and story threads likely to be fulfilled later on, rather than a speedy resolution in this first flick. I also get the feeling that the film follows exactly the story of the book - in terms of very little being jettisoned for narrative's sake.

Of the dwarves, Ken Stott's venerable turn as Balin impresses, whereas the others tend to go more for comedy - with the exception of brooding totty dwarf Thorin Oakenshield (played by the dashing Richard Armitage). He has the potential to spin off as a sex symbol in the way that Legolas did in the following trilogy and he certainly gets moments to look moody and intense as the wronged Dwarven heir to Erebor.

There are plenty of comedic touches within The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - and perhaps a few more than you'd have expected. From the behaviour of the dwarves to Sylvester McCoy's almost vaudevillian turn as Radagast the Brown, it's the polar opposite to the heavy brooding of Frodo and his mission to destroy the one ring. Sure, there's the feel of a quest as the story begins but there's plenty of humour peppered throughout which gradually peters out as it gets a little darker. Barry Humphries brings some goitred humour to the grossness of the Goblin King; and the landscapes once again stand out as the scenery swoops from the serenity of Bag End to the wondrous mountains. Likewise, the soundtrack soars when it needs to and complements the quieter scenes, such as Gandalf and Galadriel's discussion over why Bilbo was chosen.

All in all, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has set forth a revolution in film.

It's a film which you really do have to see at the cinema and in the way Peter Jackson intended; there's no real technology currently which will offer the same experience on the small screen. And it's sure as hell raised the bar for the upcoming Avatar sequels, having redefined what audiences should expect from a virtual world.

Magical, majestic, mystical and utterly masterful, The Hobbit movie is an enthralling, engrossing and unmissable return to Middle-Earth (especially if you're a committed LOTR fan); it's a fantasy film which reinvents the genre and is in someways game-changing for all that will follow it. (As a side-note, I'd love to see it again outside of its 48fps resolution to see how it looks - I have no doubt the story will hold up, but I have a feeling some of the visual spectacle may be lost.)

Personally, though I can't wait to go There and Back Again with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug next year because, based on The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the fire in my belly for Middle-Earth has once again been lit.


Get details from the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey photocall here

Get pictures from the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey press conference here.


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