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Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The (2012)

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Score: 9/10

Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs. 49 min.

Release Date: December 14th, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Peter Jackson Actors: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee

W

hen it comes to the fantasy genre, it really doesn’t get more epic than “The Hobbit.” Though only the first part of a series of three films, “An Unexpected Journey” is packed from beginning to end with a nearly nonstop barrage of orcs, trolls, goblins, dragons, dwarves, wizards, elves and more. Astonishingly well paced, Peter Jackson’s return to the world of Middle Earth reenergizes the franchise with its intriguing story and perpetual action while also providing numerous reappearances from iconic characters featured in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. This new entry will undoubtedly delight fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s celebrated work; it will also command the attention of those less familiar with the source material with its engaging balance of narrative and action. Even the increased frame rate and its noticeable alteration of the imagery can’t suppress the rousing adventure.

The Dwarven kingdom of Erebor quickly rises to prominence with its massive mining operations and nearly limitless intake of precious minerals. But Dwarf King Thrain’s lust for endless mountains of gold draws the attention of the fire drake Smaug, a vicious dragon that incinerates the city and drives out its inhabitants. Decades pass and Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), descendant to the Dwarven throne, determines to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor for his exiled people. With the aid of the great wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Thorin gathers 12 noble dwarven warriors and one hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), to embark on a quest to uncover a secret door in the mountains that will lead them to the city. But their journey is fraught with danger, from giant stone trolls to vengeful orcs to a demonic force steadily corrupting the land from the shadows.

After all these years have passed (involving the obtaining of rights, previsualizing, scripting, litigation, and various director/filmmaker involvements and then subsequent abjurations), the fact that the events of “The Hobbit” take place prior to the preexisting trilogy, and the splitting up of one story into three parts all seemed to state that this new venture would be a distant second to the previous Best Picture Oscar-winning close to such a prominent filmic sensation. But the phenomenon hasn’t ceased. This first part to a long-awaited adaptation is a triumphant, faithful return to the epic, resounding interpretations of Tolkien’s masterpieces, rarely missing a beat despite a typically lengthy runtime, and piled high with nonstop action, stunning heroes, villainous concoctions, and every fantasy element audiences have come to expect from “The Lord of the Rings” – scurrying monstrosities, gargantuan beasts, elemental titans, and of course, an out-of-place hobbit and a riddle-obsessed, golden ring-hunting, schizophrenic, wide-eyed, feeble creature hidden away in a labyrinthine cavern, continuously muttering about something “precious.”

The 3D treatment is as pointless as almost every other attempt in theaters, and the doubled frame rate rarely heightens the visual experience. In fact, the extra crispness of the imagery creates an almost choppy, unnatural, sped up look that will distract for the first half hour before eyes can adjust to the overabundance of information. However, there’s no skimping on the details, which are evident in every single sequence – buildings, scenery, skylines, clothing, armor, makeup, props, weaponry, and more – all so painstakingly realized they rival the awe of “Avatar’s” fascinating environments. When Bilbo enters the underground lair that houses Gollum, it’s a breathtaking moment – bringing to life one of the most famous of interactions, which has been previously illustrated through sketches, artwork, and Rankin and Bass’ feature-length cartoon. Anyone unfamiliar with the story will be pleasantly surprised at the suspense and excitement that builds from harrowing situations remedied by previously undefined powers of sorcery and heroism.

At times it’s like a rollercoaster ride, with an impressive pacing, tonal ups and downs, and constant activity. Unlike “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings,” this part one does an inspiring and superior job of not only feeling satisfactorily resolute, but also creating the perfect setup for sequels. It’s also never boring, despite a familiarly lengthy trek through the harsh wilderness; the return of familiar faces and locations is a particular treat, and the visual fruition of the staples of Tolkien fantasy is refreshing. Even for audiences unacquainted with the first set of films or the novels, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” is genuinely absorbing entertainment – much more of a standalone work than the previous trilogy that started in 2001.

– The Massie Twins

 

 



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