Sunday, December 16, 2012

Movie Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

THE HOBBIT, like the Lord of the Ring's, was originally believed to be "unfilmable". But in 2001, we were proven wrong as director Peter Jackson embarked on one of the most ambitious film projects ever and succeeded in bringing J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy masterpiece to life on the big screen with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. What began was a monumental trilogy of films followed by The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003). After that, we thought that our trip to Middle Earth was complete. But fans and movie goers of course wanted more, and so we asked the question: "What about The Hobbit?" Originally, we thought it would never happen, and sure enough, almost ten years later we find ourselves back in that magical land full of elves, dwarves, wizards, and of course hobbits. After years of studios and directors tossing the production around, it looked as if our hopes and dreams wouldn't come true. For the longest time, director/producer Guillermo Del Toro was originally set to direct two movies based on The Hobbit, but after he left the production, it was obvious who the logical choice for the new director should be...none other than Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy himself. And not only do we just get one movie based on J.R.R. Tolkien's first novel, we get three! Now there is a whole new trilogy to appease Tolkien fans (like me) and box office returns all over the world! The first part of this new trilogy: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is based on J.R.R. Tolkien's first novel The Hobbit. In this prequel to The Lord of the Rings, we see a younger Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, originally played by Ian Holm) 60 years before the events in The Fellowship of the Ring as Bilbo sets off on an adventure that would change his life forever!
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit..." Bilbo Baggins is quite happy in his quaint little hobbit-hole in Hobbiton, that is, until one day when the wizard Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) comes to him with a proposition: to share in an adventure. Although he denies the offer at first, soon, a group of twelve dwarves lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), comes knocking at his door to offer him a contract as a burglar and of course, eat all his food. Although Bilbo is reluctant, he decides to join them in their quest to reclaim the dwarves ancient homeland of Erebor under the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. The journey is long and dangerous as they encounter a number of obstacles along the way including: trolls, goblins, orcs, and giant spiders! Soon, Bilbo is separated from the group and finds himself in the dark lair of Gollum, where he discovers a magic ring that turns its wearer invisible!
To anyone like me who grew up reading The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, we all know and love this story. And seeing The Shire and Middle Earth again on the big screen brings a wonderful feeling of comfort and familiarity. This feeling does not however take away from the experience, although many of the scenes in The Hobbit seem very reminiscent of those in Lord of the Rings, there are many new locations which brings much of the same wonder that audiences felt when they first saw The Fellowship of the Ring. This feeling of familiarity with the world and the characters is necessary in order to connect with the previous films. Not only are many of the same settings (even the music) used such as The Shire and Rivendell, but of course there are several characters who reprise their roles to return for this prequel. Among the returning cast members from the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy are Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and of course Andy Serkis as Gollum. This connection with the original trilogy is important for both the sake of the films and the story. Like in the novel of The Hobbit, which was originally published in 1937, its second edition, published in 1951, contained a significantly revised portion of Chapter 5 "Riddles in the Dark", which brings the story more in line with its sequel, The Lord of the Rings. Unlike the Star Wars Saga in which the prequels were made 20 twenty years apart and have little connectivity with the original trilogy. The Hobbit brings a certain ease to the story particularly with the opening prologue which reunites Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) as a framing device for the story. While there has been some speculation as to why Peter Jackson felt it necessary to stretch out The Hobbit into three movies, the extra scenes and characters that are included, I feel, are justified and add more depth to the story and backstories.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is one of the most fantastic and enjoyable movie experiences I have had in a long time since I first saw Fellowship of the Ring. I admit my reticence in seeing The Hobbit, as a long-time Tolkien fan I was worried that this new trilogy of movies would hold up to The Lord of the Rings and that Peter Jackson could inspire and surprise us again particularly after such a "huge" disappointment with King Kong (2005). The biggest surprise was the fact that while the dwarves in the original novel often seemed humorous and laughable at times, in the movie they can appear often heroic, particularly Thorin. I completely renew my faith in Peter Jackson and I look forward to the next two parts of The Hobbit, particularly The Desolation of Smaug (2013)!

Note: As far as the controversial special digital format in the filming of The Hobbit with 48 frames per second as opposed to the standard 24 fps, this does very little to enhance the already brilliant movie experience. With all the latest advances and gimmicks in entertainment from digital projection to 3D it is refreshing to note that there are those filmmakers and special effects artists out there who are trying to improve on the quality of entertainment. There was a recent episode of Harry Knowles' Ain't It Cool with an interview with Douglass Trumbull on The Future of Cinema which I highly recommend you see!