When word of director Peter Jackson's plan to follow his masterful “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy with its prelude, “The Hobbit” breached, people were not sure what to expect. The “Rings” trilogy was a box office sensation, attracting big-name movie stars such as Ian McKellan, Elijah Wood and Watertown's own Viggo Mortenson to deliver a stunning result as arguably the greatest Hollywood series of the past decade. It was not only visually stunning but successfully managed to bring J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world of Middle Earth alive and appealing to all audiences.
Walking into the movie theater, I expected “The Hobbit” to deliver similar results. However, I was initially disappointed; the animation and CGI made the whole appearance of the movie much more storybook-ish and phony. The 3D did not help that it resembled a fairy tale rather than a legend. But perhaps my expectations were too high. In terms of the literature, “The Hobbit” had a much more lighthearted, fanciful feel than the darker, epic trilogy. Looking at it in this manner opens one's eyes to a new perspective: that Jackson was actually trying to emulate the differences in Tolkien's works instead of attempting to put them all into the same series. After realizing this, the visual “mistake” that I originally noticed seemed to be more artistically intentional.
Visuals aside, the plot of the movie was not bad, but perhaps a bit excessive at times. What else can one expect from a 300-page book turned into a trilogy? The entire 2 hour and 49 minute movie only brought us to page 115 of the novel. This required some added and stretched out scenes, furthering the structural redundancy of the film. It was mostly all entertaining, but the characters seemed to run into similar problems over and over...and the solutions were generally the same as well.
All across the board, the actors did a fine job at presenting the different characters' personalities. Ian McKellan returns as a 60-years-younger Gandalf the Grey from the “Rings” series and serves his role as guardian time and time again. Martin Freeman successfully portrays Bilbo Baggins as the reluctant hobbit who is persuaded to leave his beloved Shire and venture into the world beyond. Then there are the 13 boisterous Dwarves whose amiable yet violent nature allows any viewer to empathize with their struggles in reclaiming their lost homeland. Several characters that appear from the trilogy include Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, or the Lady of Lorien. Another essential role is the the first true appearance of the vile Smeagol (played by Andy Serkis) in the crucial scene where Bilbo steals the ring that inspires the rest of the novels.
On another note, it is well known by now that Jackson took a chance in experimenting with a higher frame rate on this film. Being shot in 48 frames per second, it is supposed to have twice the smoothness and flow of the average movie at 24 fps. However, being such new technology, most movie theaters are incapable of showing the film at this increased fluidity, but that is likely to change. Already, hundreds of theaters have adopted the capability of running movies including the cinemas at the Carousel Mall in Syracuse. One can assume that more directors will experiment with this higher frame rate in the future and thus instigate a transformation of theaters worldwide.
The mixed feelings towards “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” will hopefully become more conclusive as the series progresses with the following films “The Desolation of Smaug” and “There and Back Again” which are expected to release in late 2013 and 2014 respectively. Despite the violence, this prelude seemed oriented towards a younger audience than the trilogy but was still a noteworthy film. Although it may not achieve the grandeur of “The Lord of the Rings” series, part 1 of “The Hobbit” trilogy exhibits respectable potential for the remainder of the series and the journey ahead.
Sunday, July 5, 2015, Watertown, NY