Monday, February 11, 2013

movie review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

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I can still remember the chills that went up my spine the first time I saw a trailer for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the depressed feeling as I watched LoTR: The Return of the King credits ending, realizing the trilogy was over.

Overall, it had been everything I'd expected it would be, and it got me thinking it would be awesome if Peter Jackson produced The Hobbit. It only made sense. Who could possibly make a film that could stand up with Jackson's LoTR trilogy?

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For those few unfamiliar with the Middle Earth saga, it was created by noted British author J.R.R. Tolkien, between 1937-49, and is one of the premier book series ever written. Many famous fantasy authors have acknowledged they developed their love for writing from reading Tolkien's books.

Jackson had a tough act to follow when creating his prequel. He had to stay true to the original material. However, he also had to factor in changes he'd made in the LoTR movies. No small task, and controversial to Tolkien purists.

First there was to be only one film, then it split into two films. This brought delays, which eventually cost TH: An Unexpected Journey its original director, Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy). I wonder how different the trilogy might have looked had he been at the helm instead of Jackson.

After del Toro's departure, Jackson returned to the familiar feel of the director's chair. Shortly thereafter, and because of the rich depth of the material, he announced there would now be three movies.

As with LoTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, Jackson takes several minutes to ease us into the new trilogy with some back story. It's a Homeric-like epic of the righteous Dwarf King's fall from grace; and a band of travelers, led by the king's somber grandson, who go on a quest to set right things right and reclaim the kingdom.

I like the way Jackson began by tying the two trilogies together at the very beginning with an extended cameo appearance by familiar characters Old Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood). This won't be the last we see of either character as they will make appearances in TH: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and TH: There and Back Again (2014).

Also returning are Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Andy Serkis (Gollum), Cate Blanchett (Galadrial) and Christopher Lee (Saruman).

Serkis' portrayal of 100% digitized Gollum is amazing, just as it was in the first trilogy.

Cast as Young Bilbo is Martin Freeman. While not completely resembling Holm, he looks close enough, and his acting is very complimentary to what Holm accomplished in the LoTR trilogy.

The visual quality of the film was crisp, with plenty of vivid colors and saturated colors.

I wasn't expecting the incredible improvements in digital effects, which have appeared over the past decade. There was absolutely no comparison in Gollum filmed 10 years ago vs. Gollum filmed recently. It was as if I was looking at a regular actor, especially skin and muscle textures.

The battle of the Giants really got the heart pumping, and had me fearful for some of the characters, wondering if they were about to meet their demise shortly after meeting them.

Not everything was perfect, and I did have some issues.

I attended an IMAX 3D screening. The physical screen is huge, compared to normal, and is actually curved. It's best to try and sit as close to the center as possible, especially if it's in 3D. The farther off-center, the more uncomfortable the viewing experience.

Very fast action occasionally seemed a little blurry. Not enough to be a huge distraction.

There were some scenes where it seemed 3D was used just for the sake of using it. On the positive side, small things like pipe smoke and waterfalls, were amazingly life-like.

IMAX movies have wonderfully rich sound. However, it's usually played at ridiculously high levels to bathe the viewer in an auditory extravaganza. While I didn't leave the theater with ringing ears, they were tired, from being bombarded with nearly three hours of sound. Battle scenes, including the background music, were particularly loud.

The first part of the film had an uneven pace. It started out loaded with action in the back story, then slowed down while the main characters all assembled. After a brief pick-me-up as the characters conversed, we then return to a slower pace again.

As if to compensate, second part is virtually nothing but action. A couple of times I was hoping for a break, just to catch my breath.

Being that the band of adventurers were primarily dwarves, you could expect some really elaborate costumes and makeup, and that didn't disappoint. However,  every time I saw Bofur (James Nesbitt) he reminded me of bass player Derek Smalls from This is Spinal Tap. No matter how many times he was on the screen that kept popping back into my head.

Digital makeup for the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries) had a remarkable resemblance to Boss Nass, from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  His jowls and double chin shook like Jell-o, akin to the scene where Nass shivers in fear when talking about going through the planet core.

One of the biggest things that bugged me was the height of the elves. Gandalf is a very tall wizard, who dwarfs the hobbits and dwarves. That's still the case in TH: An Unexpected Journey. However, the elves seem to have had a growth spurt, seeing eye-to-eye (if not taller) with Gandalf.

All-in-all, TH: An Unexpected Journey is a good foundation for this trilogy, and I look forward to seeing the others.

RATED: 6.75 out of 10 STARS

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If you want to catch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in theaters, better do it very soon as the DVD release is set for March 19th.

A listing of fully show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

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