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The Independent Critic

Martin Freeman, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis, Ken Stott, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Ian McKellen, James Nesbitt, Christopher Lee
Peter Jackson
J.R.R. Tolkien (Novel), Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, Philippa Boyens
Rated PG-13
169 Mins.
New Line Cinema
New Zealand: Home of Middle Earth
Video Blogs
- Start of Production
- Location Scouting
- Shooting Block One
- Filming in 3D
- Locations Part 1
- Locations Part 2
- Stone St. Studios Tour
- Wrap of Principal Photography
- Post-production Overview
- Wellington World Premiere

Theatrical Trailers
- Dwarves
- Letter Opener
- Bilbo Contract
- Gandalf Wagers
- Gollum Paths

Game Trailers
- The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-Earth
- Guardians of Middle Earth
- Lego The Lord of the Rings

 "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is pretty much as I expected 
As nearly any woman will tell you, size does matter - BUT, there is such a thing as too big and too long.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is bigger and longer and desperately needing to be cut, a film in which director Peter Jackson's fascination with his technological toys far outweighs any potential justification that Jackson might have for turning a mere 300 page novel into a self-aware and pretentious cinematic endeavor that comes closer to exploiting its source material than celebrating it.

While I'll be the first to admit that even Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy never quite caught my fancy as it seemingly did much of the world, it's hard to imagine anyone in their right mind placing this first film in the planned trilogy anywhere near the tremendous achievement of Lord of the Rings.

Friend and film criticism peer Christopher Lloyd, far more of a Tolkien geek than I will ever be, pointed out that by the end of film one we'd already managed to reach right around page 190 of The Hobbit's 300 pages. It's no wonder it felt at times like I was sitting through a medieval Twilight, a film so convinced of its audience that it wouldn't be surprising to find a film based upon one page of the book.

Fortunately, it's not quite that bad here. However, as Lloyd pointed out, this is a film for true Tolkien connoisseurs who will understand that Jackson takes a tremendous story and embellishes upon it and reads between the lines. I certainly don't begrudge Jackson a flight of fancy, but there's too many times during An Unexpected Journey that it feels like we're watching Jackson's story rather than that of Tolkien.

The simple truth is that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is bloated in every sense of the word. In addition to needlessly dragging out a relatively simple story for an unfathomable and unjustifiable three films, each of which will no doubt be close to three hours, Jackson has also doubled the speed of 3-D by shooting the film at 48 frames per second projection rate. It has already been widely shared that some audience members have struggled with the increased speed, a speed which can create a more dizzying experience. Alas, instead of creating an immersive fantasy world, Jackson's hyper-advanced technology only becomes more jarring and noticeably unrealistic in nearly any scene involving landscapes and architecture. This world that we so completely need to surrender to is nearly impossible to surrender to, an obvioux faux fantasy that is so unsettling that it's practically impossible to focus on Jackson's seemingly endless and derivative exposition.

In case you're completely unaware, and I can't fathom why you'd see this film if you are, our film tells the story of how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) becomes a hero by aiding Thorin (Richard Armitage) and 12 other dwarves as they embark on a quest to reclaim their land of Erebor. Erebor had been brutally captured by Smaug (Leonard Nimoy), and pretty much the entirety of this first film involves embellished dinners, embellished battles and exceedingly embellished discussions that may or may not have actually happened in the actual book. While there are times when Jackson is quite faithful to his source material, there's simply no question that he's added quite a bit of material with mixed results.

It's surprising and disturbing how much of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels out of balance, most fundamentally between the anything but grounded visuals and the lush, emotionally resonant tones that come from an original score brough to life by the London Philharmonic. The film's language also feels quite scattershot, at times evoking all the majesty and wonder of Tolkien's writing and, at other times, coming off as so casual that you start to wonder if you've stumbled into a sequel for that godawful Jack Black/Michael Cera film Year One.

Guillermo del Toro was originally scheduled to direct this film, and his influence as a producer and one of the film's writers may very well be at least part of why the film feels like a darker experience than one would expect from Tolkien's relatively kid-friendly source material. Even the beloved Gollum, brought even more magnificently to life by Andy Serkis, is a darker and more emotionally disturbing presence. In this case, however, that presence works as his extended scene with Bilbo is easily one of the film's true highlight scenes.

The good news is that despite tonal issues and an abundance of reasons to not see the film, there are in fact many reasons to catch the film. While he isn't asked to flex his acting muscles tremendously, Martin Freeman is a welcome and winning presence as Bilbo Baggins, capturing both his bookish nature and that inner bravery that increasingly comes to light. Likewise, Ian McKellen is marvelous as always even if he does have just a few too many moments of manipulative gravitas.

Richard Armitage, despite repeatedly triggering Rob Zombie flashbacks, projected the necessary bravado as Thorin, even if his scenes did seem to be erratic and filled with an awful lot of rescues for someone seemingly fated to be a king. Cate Blanchett, as Galadriel, and Hugo Weaving, as Elrond, also have weirdly poetic scenes that go on too long yet are generally effective.

Oh, and it goes without saying that anywhere you find a film set in a fantasy world you're going to find Christopher Lee. Lee is a delight in his scenes as Saruman alongside McKellen's Gandalf, while a garden variety of familiar faces show up here and there throughout the nearly three hour film.

There's no denying that there's much to marvel at with An Unexpected Journey, though seeing it at 24 frames per second may actually enhance the viewing experience for most moviegoers. The film is only showing on 450 screens nationwide at 48 frames per second, so if you have the option I'd wholeheartedly recommend seeing it at 24 fps.

I'm not really sure how much of the journey in this first film in The Hobbit trilogy is actually unexpected, but I'm absolutely sure that a portion of it is wholly unnecessary.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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