An Unexpected Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

On Tuesday 18th December I was lucky enough to be given, at the last minute, a ticket to the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Sydney.  To say I was excited is an understatement! I’ll try to keep this review relatively spoiler free, but its hard!

Coming from the book first and foremost it was most interesting to see how they had changed or adapted the story to fit the (now) trilogy format. Most notably, and this is hardly surprising given that they made The Lord of the Rings first, it begins with an elderly Bilbo, played again by Ian Holm, deciding to narrate his story of The Hobbit (or there and back again) to his nephew Frodo, again played by Elijah Wood, so there is immediately a connection to the films that your average movie goer would have seen already. There are several other LOTR connections & appearances made, though some are drawn directly from other Tolkien appendices rather than the Hobbit text itself.

As with LOTR, the movie really nails the look and feel of Middle-earth (being designed again by veteran illustrators John Howe and Alan Lee) and it’s fantastic to go back to that world and see it at a different time and through a more light-hearted lens. Just as with the books, The Hobbit is more fun and focuses less on fears of war, corruption and darkness and more on adventure and fun. The dwarves are all given time to shine and their very individual costume and makeup designs are fantastic. There are much more comic moments and outlandish characters, such as the twitchy, feral wizard Radagast the Brown ( played by the perfectly cast Doctor Who No.7 Sylvester McCoy ), the mentally-challenged Mountain trolls or the grotesque Goblin King voiced by Barry Humphries. All the actors, but especially Richard Armitage as Thorin ( and of course ther peerless Ian McKellan as Gandalf ), are fantastic and really give their characters depth. I did feel a little as though Bilbo’s character has further to go though.( thankfully there’s 2 more films for that to happen in!). Martin Freeman’s performance is pitch-perfect, but I felt like there should be more for his character arc somehow.

But there is a serious story to tell here, of dragons and danger, and it does feel a little like they’ve had to insert or stretch material to keep our party of heros in peril for this first film, but it is all seemlessly integrated and I for one never felt bored.  Like he did with Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson has extended several moments from the books, including flashbacks to events only talked about, into astounding action set-pieces, which look all the more amazing with the new technology now available to him 10 years on.

ON the topic of technology, I will briefly talk about the new “HFR” or High Frame Rate version ( which the premiere was ). Essentially this was one of the first films filmed at twice the speed of regular film ( normally 24 frames per second ), with the idea that this will deliver crisper, sharper and more life-like movement, especially for 3D. If you have a newish TV you’ll probably have seen a similiar technology that artifically replicates it called “True Motion” or “Motion Smoothing”. While I agree it does help make the 3D flow better, for everything else I must say I didn’t like it- it made the movie look like it was shot on a cheap home video camera and motion was slightly TOO fast for my liking. But I’ll leave it there. ( If anyone wants to talk more about it, hit me up on the Forums! )

It seems clear from how this film ends what will be the chief threat for the next film (no spoilers!) and while we only get glimpses of Smaug the Terrible in this film what we do see does give us a hint of the danger to come for the final installment. Visually spectacular and a great thrill-ride its definitely more family friendly than LOTR and the perfect escape from the summer heat! There are certainly scary moments with Gollum and Wargs though, so maybe not so good for little kids. Whats more the cliffhanger ending should hopefully bring many more people to read the original book to find out what happens next!

Feel free to add your own review on our Forums!

Happy Holidays and happy reading everyone!


10 Responses to “An Unexpected Review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

  1. azquim says:

    Great review Mark, even to get me very interested (well, I was already but now I'm more interested) to go and see it right away, instead of waiting for the post-Christmas rush to fade a little.

    Really, really hope that my cinema has it in 'old-school' 2D

  2. Zephyr says:

    Saw it last night! I thought it was great!!

  3. Wyvern says:

    I too saw it recently and loved it! (I am listening to the soundtrack as I write)
    I can't say how much it followed the book, as it has been way too many years since I read it (and it is in storage so I can't get to it :(
    I did think there was a bit of 'filler' in there to pad it out – I'm unsure why they needed to make it into three movies – considering LOTR was three books, hence three movies …. Mind you, there was ample amount of extraordinary cinematography in there .. so no real complaint.

  4. Gillian says:

    OK – you've convinced me I should see it. When I finish my current chapter-of-thingie (someone's book, spec fic but strictly academic) I shall reward myself with The Hobbit. If anyone's in Canberra next week, I'd be happy to have company.

  5. Mark C says:

    Over my holidays I went and saw it again in 2D and enjoyed it much more. Now that the excitement and anticipation had worn off I did find the first section with all the dwarves at Bag-End a little over-long.:rolleyes: I'm pretty sure the

    Spoiler: Title

    arc is not at all in the original text, though I have no doubt that it is based on

    Spoiler: Title

    from somewhere in either Christopher Tolkien's other Middle-Earth books or the LOTR appendicies. While it is cool and adds an ongoing danger to the journey, it could have been cut with no ill effect I tend to think.;) I loved Radagast and his crazy rabbit-driven sleigh even more without the 3D distracting me too :)

  6. Mark C says:

    Just found this neat little review over on a blog that compares the book and film:

  7. Zephyr says:

    Loved Radagast.. Although..

    Spoiler: Radegast

  8. Zephyr says:

    P.S. The spoiler toggle is quite cool!!

  9. I think it's unfair to compare the Hobbit to LOTR (not that you did; but many are). Even as a book the flavour was completely different, and if I remember correctly, didn't JRR write this book for his own children originally? There are some great moments of comedic relief, great action (the scene with the moutain goblins during their escape was especially good) and I think the faster FPS made the film look spectacular. Once your eyes get attuned to it, you barely notice it. I guess it's just the 'haze' that most movies have had for so long have made us think otherwise. In some ways it's raw, but it's spectacular. I still couldn't name all the dwarves, but they were each individual enough to be distinguished. I don't remember quite so much focus on the Necromancer in the books, but it's been some time since I have read it.

  10. Gillian says:

    I finally saw The hobbit and I liked it, despite agreeing with most of the criticisms of it. It was a homage to the book, rather an a retelling of it, and the moment I retitled it "Raiders of the Lost Hobbit" Jackson's narrative choices made sense. I blogged some of my thoughts at the time, but not which moments were Nac Mac Feegle ones rather than JRRT ones. A week later, the Nac Mac Feegle moments really stick.

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