Review: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 16 December 2012



After THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy was released a decade ago, (many) would have agree with me it was the holy grail of all epic fantasy genre for modern generation. And thanks to director Peter Jackson for taking the fans and moviegoers for such an unforgettable cinematic journey. Now here he is again, attempting to bring the same cinematic magic in THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. No doubt this is really a monumental task for him especially he had set the bar high in his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. Naturally, fans and moviegoers alike are definitely expecting a lot from him as well. The good news is, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY will satisfy (a lot) of die-hard fans who have read the J.R.R. Tolkien's book. And at the same time, the familiar majestic feel and strong visual flair that we have grown accustomed to Jackson's epic filmmaking style is there. But the bad news is, the movie is mostly a long-winded slog and unnecessarily bloated that might frustrate a lot of casual viewers.

The movie begins with the first prologue detailing on the older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), who is writing a story for his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood) about how the fire-breathing dragon Smaug has overtaking the dwarves' home of Erebor in the Lonely Mountain. Then along came the second prologue, which of course, reintroducing Ian Holm and Elijah Wood's characters before the event of THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING began. The story proper finally takes off when the older Bilbo recalls about the past he had his first-ever adventure out of the comfort zone of his home.

Sixty years earlier, young hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman), is happily living his peaceful days in the Shire. One fine morning, a wizard named Gandalf (Ian McKellen) paid him a visit and offers him to join him in the adventure beyond the Shire. But Bilbo doesn't want to take risk and refuses his offer. Then during the night when Bilbo is about to enjoy his dinner, he gets a surprise visit by a dwarf he never seen him before. Not long after, more dwarves arrive at his door and soon, there are total of 13 dwarves inside his home feasting on his food. The leader of the dwarves is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and the rest of the 12 dwarves are: Dwalin (Graham McTavish), Balin (Ken Stott), Kili (Aidan Turner), Fili (Dean O'Gorman), Dori (Mark Hadlow), Nori (Jed Brophy), Ori (Adam Brown), Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Bofur (James Nesbitt) and Bombur (Stephen Hunter). Finally Gandalf arrives, and Bilbo starts to realize all this sudden "surprise visit" has to do with his trick. Apparently Gandalf handpicked Bilbo to join in a quest to help the 13 dwarves to reclaim their home of Erebor in the Lonely Mountain, because he is well aware of hobbits' burglary skills and many other things as well. At first, Bilbo still doesn't want to risk his life for such a dangerous journey but subsequently agrees to tag along anyway.

And so Bilbo's "unexpected journey" begins to take place along with Gandalf and the 13 dwarves. Along the way, they are forced to encounter with trolls, goblins, stone giants, Thorin's nemesis, Azog the Pale Orc (Manu Bennett), and of course, Gollum (Andy Serkis).

The original J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit book is actually runs at less than 300 pages and that's considerably thin. Generally, one feature movie is more than enough but writer-director Peter Jackson is daring enough to expand its storyline to a nearly three-hour long. That is certainly very ambitious, but Jackson also make a big mistake of overloading his story expansion with lots of unnecessary fillers and extraneous characters that he could have trimmed off instead. Not to mention that Jackson and his co-writers (Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro) drags awfully a lot during the start, especially in the scene involving Gandalf and the 13 dwarves crashes at Bilbo's home, making a mess and also taking their times to sing not one, but two musical numbers. Yes, I understand it is sometimes necessary to understand the nature of the dwarves' characters but at the same time, is it really necessary for Jackson and his fellow screenwriters to stretch such scene that long? Even when Bilbo's "unexpected journey" begins, you would expect Jackson has finally find his proper footing and set a strong momentum ahead. But alas, the story continues to bog down ahead and it's really a butt-numbing experience to sit through. That's not all, you'll be surprised that all the countless attacks from trolls, wolves and Orcs feel more like an afterthought.

But luckily the movie manages to show some good sign of life once it reaches to the second half. A brief, but spectacular sequence where Bilbo and the 13 dwarves find themselves caught in the middle of the thunderstorm while the mountains they are crossing suddenly comes to life and starts fighting each other. The scene where those towering stone giants hurling rocks at each other is certainly a sight to behold. Subsequent sequence afterwards grow progressively better with the movie's most memorable scene involving Bilbo and Gollum engage in an intense competition of riddles. That single scene alone is tautly directed, yet suspenseful enough to keep you attentive at all time. Last but not least, is the exciting sequence where Gandalf leads the 13 dwarves as they march forward across the multi-level wooden bridge while fighting an endless army of goblins. In that particular scene, Andrew Lesnie's swooping camerawork that track the battle is akin of experiencing a rollercoaster ride.

Despite some of the unnecessary extraneous characters, most of the cast here are good enough to warrant some attention. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as the plucky, yet likeable Bilbo Baggins and he's the kind of unlikely charming hero viewers love to root for. As the wise Gandalf, Ian McKellen slips his iconic role like a glove and his commanding performance is as captivating as ever. Richard Armitage is engaging enough as the hardheaded Thorin. And of course, not forgetting Andy Serkis, who reprises his memorable role as Gollum. His particular scene where he shows all the frustration and despair during a game of riddles is a terrific work of acting expression.

Technical credits are top-notch, and again I must noted that Andrew Lesnie continues to spellbind us with his epic cinematography that gives the movie such a majestic quality. While the special effects are considerably better than those in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, some of the CG looks spotty in place (notably in the chase scene involving the Orcs at the open mountain).

Regarding about Jackson's daring choice to shoot his movie in a relatively new 48 fps (frame per second), I couldn't comment that since I watched this in 2D version. Even so, I notice the 2D version is significantly different than the average 2D version of any movies I have watched before. The sheer amount of color and every visual detail surrounding the movie are significantly brighter and so sharp they make my eyes bleed.

Overall, THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY doesn't exactly reaches the creative heights of what Jackson did successfully in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. But it's still a reasonably exciting epic fantasy to watch for anyway. On the contrary, Guillermo del Toro was supposed to direct this movie and back then, THE HOBBIT was originally split into two movies. It's quite a loss that Guillermo del Toro quit the project halfway after years stuck in pre-production limbo. If he chose to stick around, the outcome would have been somewhat different. Furthermore, it would be interesting to see del Toro's unique take in THE HOBBIT movies. I'm not saying that Peter Jackson is a bad choice for this project. As a matter of fact, he's a perfect fit since he knows the world of J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved fantasy like the back of his hand. But returning to Middle-Earth after THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy does have a sense of deja vu experience more or less. Since he's already signed on for the next two movies, we can only hope he'll be improved considerably well in THE HOBBIT: THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG which is scheduled for next December release.

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