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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

2012 | 169 min | PG-13 | 2.39:1

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


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User reviews

10 user reviews

Movie appeal




Theatrical release date

 14 December, 2012
 13 December, 2012

Country of origin

 New Zealand

Technical aspects

3D (native, 166 minutes)
IMAX, 166 minutes

Box office




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Screenshots from The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Blu-ray

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 13, 2012

2001’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” was a genuine moviemaking risk. The first chapter of an expensive, unproven trilogy, the picture carried an extraordinary level of doubt alien to most features, with the fate of a studio and the career of director Peter Jackson tied to its success. But it hit, hit huge, becoming one of the biggest movies of the noughties, while commencing a bold fantasy series that helped to redefine epic filmmaking for an entire generation. At least the Extended Cuts did. We don’t speak of the Theatrical Cuts anymore. “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” marches into theaters 11 years later, only now there’s a different type of pressure on the financiers and Jackson: expectations. They be a brutal mistress, matey, yet “Journey” manages the weight with some degree of grace, making sure longtime fans are sated while urging the prequel into directions unique to this new trilogy of hobbit and dwarf travel. So bust out the elf ears, heat up a square of lembas, and pack in the pipe-weed. It’s finally time to return to Middle-earth.

In the time before his 111th birthday, Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) sits down to write his memoirs, with hopes to share a lifetime of adventures with his beloved nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood). His mind racing back 60 years, Bilbo (now played by Martin Freeman) is visited by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who’s come to the hobbit with a request to join a special mission into the heart of danger. On the prowl is the dragon Smaug, who long ago took over The Lonely Mountain, killing the inhabitants of the dwarf kingdom and bathing in its riches, with few in the land prepared to take on such a formidable enemy. Into Bilbo’s home comes the Company of Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), hoping to find a small and stealthy thief to join their gang and destroy Smaug. At first reluctant to leave the comfort of his life, Bilbo soon agrees to the challenge, with the team heading out into an Orc-infested world to reclaim their land, with Bilbo learning about courage and genuine threat, soon faced with the scattered terror of Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the power of the One Ring.

As many have already noted, “The Lord of the Rings” series took three movies to bring three books to life. “The Hobbit” is born from only a single literary offering from author J.R.R. Tolkien, yet Jackson has stretched out the story to take up three features. Obviously, there’s a profit to be made with another Middle-earth saga, yet Jackson and his collaborators (including screenwriters Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) appear to have genuine affection for all things hobbit, laboring to transform a basic story of adventure into a screen spectacle with complications that spread out over a fresh trilogy. For the most part, Jackson has succeeded in returning some of the old “LOTR” magic to the prequel, with a score by Howard Shore working in well-known themes of threat and heroism, while familiar faces pop in peculiar places, including a brief encounter with Wood and time with Cate Blanchett (as Galadriel), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), and Christopher Lee (still menacing as Saruman). The story itself is also contorted to meet “LOTR” standards, following Bilbo’s desire for grand escape away from his comfort zone and Thorin’s hope to regain his kingdom, with these intertwining dreams fueling a larger dramatic arc of movement needed to carry the tale from one encounter to the next.

As to be expected, cinematic technology as improved much since 2001, with “An Unexpected Journey” marvelously detailed in ways never seen before, with snarling goblins, bulbous dwarves, and immaculate vistas that put the original trilogy to shame. There’s a different look to “An Unexpected Journey” as well, finding the feature shot in High Frame Rate (48 frames per second, as opposed to the traditional 24 frames per second), gifting the effort a hyper-crisp look that vaguely resembles live television. Although it will undoubtedly polarize audiences, I was somewhat convinced by the HFR presentation, which makes visual effects and make-up work look unbelievably textured, while colors are simply extraordinary (the orc-warning blue glow of Bilbo’s sword Sting has never looked so rich). While it lacks the cinematic grit of “LOTR,” “An Unexpected Journey” pushes the envelope in terms of screen immersion, with stunningly clean 3D keeping viewers involved in the events of the film. Time with Gollum is equally mind-blowing, finding the ghoul astonishingly realistic, with Serkis’s touch and facial features more noticeable than ever before. Jackson bravely wanders onto new terrain with his HFR interests, and while the candied look of the picture isn’t familiar, the director’s swooping camerawork, fixation on grotesqueries, and reverence for towering Middle-earth architecture remains as potent as ever. The possibilities of this technology are thrilling.

Admittedly, three hours of “An Unexpected Journey” is too much. The opening act suffers from a glacial pace and feeble exposition (business concerning a threat known as The Necromancer is bewildering at this point), while the rest of the film tends to recycle its action beats, with Gandalf acting as more of a cleaner for the dwarves when they make a mess of a situation. Walking does ensue, along with battles with goblins and orcs, giant monsters made out of mountains, and growling creatures. There’s even a contest of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum. Jackson pushes “An Unexpected Journey” into overkill at times, but the second half convinces, finding its footing as the characters grow comfortable with one another and the quest slowly comes into focus.

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” isn’t nearly as dynamic as “LOTR,” though it does try to ape the trilogy’s multifaceted ambition. How it can sustain a fairly straightforward narrative over two more installments remains to be seen, though Jackson is hardly refusing the challenge. I trust his instincts with Tolkien’s work. It’s his editorial indifference that could pose a greater threat to “The Hobbit” than any attack from Smaug.

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving
Director: Peter Jackson

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