An expected journey – Peter Jackson brings us back to the old, familiar magic that reminds us why we love to go to the movies.
Dir. Peter Jackson
2012 | New Zealand/USA | Adventure/Fantasy/Action | 169 mins | 2.39:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis
Plot: A curious Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of Dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.
Awards: Nom. for 3 Oscars – Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Distributor: Warner Bros
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Mainstream
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 12 Dec 2012)
The big question on everyone’s lips: Has Peter Jackson recreated the old magic of Middle Earth again? Yes. And I believe it will only get better. Jackson started the 21st century with a bang with the no-words-can-describe-how-awesome-it-is The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) trilogy, followed up with the rousing spectacle that is King Kong (2005), but ended the decade with a whimper with The Lovely Bones (2009), a film best quickly forgotten.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey continues Jackson’s journey of grand spectacle, stunning action, and another long story, this time of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a hobbit who follows Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a group of dwarf warriors to reclaim ‘The Lonely Mountain’, once the pride and glory of the dwarves.
Running at about 170 minutes, it delivers a tremendously engaging adventure ride that entertains with nostalgia, charm, and goofy banter among the characters. Notice I mentioned the word ‘ride’, for this is Jackson at his playful best. The camerawork is comparatively more mobile and fluid than that of LOTR, sometimes more vertigo-inducing, but it is all part of the fun.
“True courage is about not knowing when to take a life, but when to spare one.”
The use of 3D gives moviegoers a more immersive experience, and coupled with the fact that the film was shot at 48 frames per second (twice the normal rate), the images are unprecedentedly clear even amid the action. The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie recaptures the beauty and ghastliness of Middle Earth, and the music by Howard Shore stirs the emotions once again with a mix of old and new themes.
Even with the ensemble cast, Freeman stands out not because he is an exceptionally fine actor, but because he embodies a character that is at once endearing and down-to-Middle Earth, someone that we will gladly root for…not only for one film, but for the entirety of the planned trilogy.
Jackson also leaves room for emotions as characters talk about the battles fought, won and lost, often in voiceover over an extended flashback sequence. Granted, it does not reach the epic storytelling heights of LOTR, but Bilbo’s personal tale will probably come of age in the next two films. The visual effects are top notch, and it may just secure that last Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects in a year of truly breathtaking CGI-laden films like Life of Pi and Prometheus.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has received mixed reviews from critics, with some saying that Jackson has created another visual and storytelling masterpiece, while others point accusing fingers at him for recycling old material in an inferior moneymaking spinoff to LOTR. I think that the film’s familiarity works greatly in its favour. Wouldn’t you want to go back to Middle Earth again? To revisit old friends and old places? To listen to Shore’s rousing music as the camera tracks along mountainous regions while the characters make their journey into the unknown? I would, and you would too.