Gargantuan in scale and vision, the first of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit trilogy is more of a set-up piece for the remaining films. Unhurried in its pace, the film introduces the enchanting world, the eccentric characters and the adventures that they will eventually face. With rich detailing, immaculate art and terrific 3D, the film makes for a good theatrical watch, but there will certainly be complaints that the first Hobbit film doesn’t nearly pack in as much excitement as any of the LOTR films.
Update: While filmmakers have been shooting at higher frame rates for quite a while now, this is the first time that an entire feature film is being projected theatrically at 48 frames per second, dubbed as HFR for projection purposes. (Currently, only select INOX theatres and Sathyam in Chennai are HFR-ready.) Experiencing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in HFR 3D has its pros and cons. It works well in action sequences and in shots where there is camera movement. The higher 48 FPS frame rate means that motion becomes far smoother and action is easier to watch. However, 48 FPS also seems to improve image clarity, which often makes it easy to discern shots where the lighting is artificial and where sets/VFX are used. Simply put, filmmakers will have to be far more careful if they intend to continue using HFR in the future. More effort will be required to seamless blend live action and locations with CG. As far as The Hobbit is concerned, there will be those who complain that HFR looks 'too much like video'. For most, the overall experience will seem far more familiar and enjoyable in regular 24 FPS, which our eyes are so accustomed to. Personally speaking, I will not dismiss HFR so early on in its existence, considering that I got goose-bumps at exactly the same places while watching it the second time round in HFR, as I did the first time when I watched it in good ol' 24.
My best friends are Ron and Hermione. My name, of course, is Harry Potter. But even I would have to admit that ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is arguably the greatest bit of fantasy writing in history.
Brought to life by Peter Jackson’s stunning vision in the form of his cinematic trilogy, the films themselves occupy a rare pedestal when it comes to films adapted from literature. Now, Jackson is back. With the first of his trilogy of films based on The Hobbit, the prequel to J R R Tolkien’s most famous epic, Jackson transports us back to the magical Middle-Earth; a world of dragons and Dwarves, of wizards and Orcs. A 3D world of fantasy and adventure, one so breathtaking that it engulfs you, if you are willing to let go.
Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit is happy in his hole and his world, until adventure comes knocking in the form of Gandalf the wizard and a motley crew of Dwarves. As we are introduced to the conflict in the Dwarves’ history and why this journey is necessary for them to undertake, the reluctant Bilbo is drawn into it as well, and the barmy pack of characters set off for an intriguing hunt for gold and the pursuit of the dragon Smaug.
Linear and fairly simplistic in its narrative, this first film primarily acts as a preamble for the grandeur and excitement of the adventures that the two subsequent films will doubtlessly hold. As Gandalf mysteriously tells Bilbo, “I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure…” what he is really doing is asking us, the viewers, to join him in the world that Tolkien’s and Jackson’s respective imaginations have created.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is primarily held together by bewitching imagery embellished with remarkable 3D; the film virtually transports you to Middle-Earth. The eccentric characters and the comic tone of the film are charming, and are helped greatly by the performances. Martin Freeman takes little time to shake off any image you have of him as Watson from BBC’s contemporary Sherlock adaptation and slips into the role of the younger Bilbo with ease. His mannerisms and expressions are perfect, and infinitely more likeable than that of Elijah Wood, who appears in a very brief reprisal of his role as Frodo. For hardcore LOTR fans, there are also cameos by Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and the likes, not to mention Andy Serkis’ deliciously twisted, motion-capture return as Gollum.
My personal favourite, of course, is Ian McKellen’s Gandalf the Grey. The thespian, as always, brings that air of mystique and indefatigable character that is Gandalf the wizard. His disappearances and reappearances bring about a sense of alternating loss and reassurance, of magical involvement with Bilbo and the Dwarves who depend so much on the towering presence that the character has.
Undeniably, the film works more to make you reminisce about the far more frenetic and heart-pounding experience of the earlier trilogy, because the film suffers from one big problem that is hard to ignore when you gauge it objectively. While personally, the leisurely pace of the film didn’t bother me because I enjoyed the vicarious fantastical experience that I was offered, there will undoubtedly be those who will find the pace of the film tedious. Only those truly taken in by Tolkien-verse will fully be able to appreciate the film. Whether the film will work for you or not depends entirely on how much you like involving yourself in the experience that is cinema.
The Lord of the Rings was a novel just shy of 1400 pages, and it took three movies to make a respectable cinematic adaptation of it. The Hobbit, in comparison, isn’t even 300 pages long and is still being made into three movies. Crudely put, each ‘Hobbit’ film has just about one-fifth of how much each LOTR film had. The choice to make three films out of the book, then, seems more financially driven than creatively. After all, each film is most certainly going to rake in billions worldwide.
But those concerns are for the practical, the rational and the cynical. For those who love living characters and mentally inhabiting places of enigma and fantasy, An Unexpected Journey works well. The songs of the Dwarves, the quirks of our lovable Hobbit, Gandalf’s immense aura and the obstacles that they face along their journey will enchant you. Jackson’s assured hand at recreating the world that he is so clearly besotted by more than most, makes some scenes and set pieces truly stand out. The familiar background score, very reminiscent of the LOTR films, aids further in making you live that world.
Also, what the film really does is set things up nicely for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again. In the larger scheme of things, when one wants to revisit the Tolkien-Jackson universe years later, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is where they would start, and it is a worthy introduction to the world of magic and adventure that they will be sucked into over the nearly 20 hours of cinema that they will eventually experience.
This review is by guest reviewer Pradeep Menon. Pradeep is a filmmaker and a dreamer. He loves books, rain, winters, tea and his parents. Cinema, however, is the only truth he believes in. He breathes and bleeds film, mostly in hues of saffron, white, green and blue. You can watch his short films at www.youtube.com/cyberpradeep.
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