Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) - More of the Same

The First Step in a Three-Part Trilogy

Film Poster The Hobbit 2012
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012).

Director/screenwriter Peter Jackson had a huge triumph with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in the early 2000s, and he returns basically with the same team (screenwriters , and the addition of of the "Hellboy" franchise, who left the project). Ten years later, we get "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (2012), an adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's first middle earth fantasy story from New Line Cinema. Fans have huge expectations for his films of this genre, and, on the other hand, are so excited about them that they often see no fault. This is a good film that captures the spirit of those earlier films and is a worthy addition to the saga.

Main characters The Hobbit 2012
The major players in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Thror (Jeffrey Thomas) is King under the Mountain, and times are good. Smaug the Dragon is drawn to the Dwarves' gold and drives Thror and the people out of Erebor. The Dwarves move on and take back another city from the Orcs due to Thorin (Richard Armitage) defeating the Orc leader, though Thror is killed in the battle. The Dwarves turn into nomads, with no home and no steady work.

Martin Freeman as Bibo The Hobbit 2012
Why, um, yes, it's my sword, what's it to you?

Many years later, the curious young Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) journeys with the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), Thorin and the Dwarves to reclaim some treasure stolen by Smaug, who loves gold. Gandalf has a map that reveals a secret way into Smaug's mountain fortress, Lonely Mountain, and tasks Bilbo with going inside. Along the way, they are captured by Trolls, who Gandalf manages to defeat. They find much booty in the Trolls' cave, including some swords that Bilbo and Thorin decide to use.

Ian McKellen as Gandalf The Hobbit 2012
Ian McKellen is Gandalf - how many franchises is he in, anyway?

Eventually, they reach the Elven fortress Revendell, where Elrond (Hugo Weaving) gives them valuable information. Another wizard, Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), warns them of a spirit he came across at Dol Guldur which Gandalf thinks may be a dark lord.

Andy Serkis as Gollum The Hobbit 2012
Andy Serkis returns as Gollum in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

They continue on their way and are almost slaughtered by stone giants, then are captured by goblins. Bilbo is separated and captured by Gollum (Andy Serkis), who threatens to eat Bilbo. Instead, they engage in a riddle contest, which Bilbo must win in order not to be eaten. Bilbo wins and steals a magic ring from Gollum, who gives chase but is foiled by the ring's power of invisibility. Bilbo meets up with the others, who escape from the goblins but then are attacked by the same Orc that killed Thror. All seems lost, and somebody must step up if the group is to survive.

Thorin holding sword The Hobbit 2012
I shall smite you with my mighty sword!

Fans will love this film. It is true to the "Lord of the Rings" films and has the same feel. Fans have nothing to worry about, the story is intact and the future of the franchise is assured. The film is a visual treat and technically adventurous. The entire film drives toward the climax in a steady way, and you feel as if you are on the trip with Bilbo, Gandalf and the others. If you really know your Tolkien, there are very few surprises, and you may be anticipating scenes before they actually appear.

Asian poster The Hobbit 2012
"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is beloved overseas.

Gollum steals the film. He is a sight to behold, much more vicious and expressive than in the previous films, and the scenes with him are extremely clever. The special effects really make this film work, even better than the earlier films. The fast 3D ("48 frames per second," as everyone knows by now because it keeps getting repeated over and over and over) is especially effective in giving an exhilarating dimension to the moments of greatest tension, with rocks and boulders seeming to fly right at you. Gandalf seems funnier than previously, while Martin Freeman manages the transition from bumbler to hero as well as he can with what he is given. Richard Amritrage projects the dignity of Thorin without losing sight of the fact that he is, in fact, a dwarf. Nice acting all around.

Bilbo with sword The Hobbit 2012
The Elven Sword in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)."

The film's strengths, though, contrast sharply with its weaknesses. The journey is full of inconsequential nonsense that detracts from the ultimate sense of accomplishment that would make this film truly epic. You will probably feel that the film drags in the middle. The battles are wonderful, but they are few and far between. A more straightforward, to-the-point film would have worked a lot better. The screenwriters became self-indulgent, and we get all sorts of pointless stops along the way. The backgound music, by Howard Shore, is more of the same, which isn't a bad thing, but isn't very memorable, either.

Andy Serkis as Gollum The Hobbit 2012
Gollum seems a little more life-like this time around in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Azog (Manu Bennett) in particular seems out of place. Unlike the other characters, he does not project as an authentic Tolkien figure, and his appearance is not particularly impressive. Bilbo almost disappears at times, and his vulnerabilities that figure so prominently in the book are mostly glossed over. His transition to hero is not adequately worked up - it just happens. Radagast just suddenly shows up, then goes away, and the whole appearance seems like a throwaway. If that scene had been cut completely, the movie would not have suffered, and even might have been a bit tighter.

John Callen
Oin has a mean and hungry look in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Tolkien's "The Hobbit" was a children's book, so there is less death and destruction than in the "Lord of the Rings" films. There are a lot of scary moments, though, and small children may have bad memories after seeing this. In that sense, having the exact same team as made the "Rings" films make this one was almost a mistake, because this film should have been a little lighter than it turned out. If, that is, you expect it to be faithful to the source material, which in other respects it is - almost slavishly.

Smaug The Hobbit 2012
'Smaug the magic dragon, lives by the sea...."

Bottom line is that if you liked the earlier films, you probably will like this one. If you didn't, you probably should stay away. If you never saw any of them, and you like sword-and-sorcery films, give this one a shot if you have a chance. Since most people loved the "Rings" films, this no doubt will be a smash box office hit. Just don't expect any surprises if you enjoyed the book, because there is very little new material here that is of any value. Worth the price of admission, but you might also consider waiting until the extended version comes out next year, though it will be a long wait.

Below is the trailer, and below that the soundtrack, which really is quite good in a bland sort of way - good for putting on while you are focusing on something else.


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