REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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7After going through pre-production hell and waiting for many years, the first prequel of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy is finally here! Maximum expectations for The Hobbit had already been raised following the critically acclaimed reaction of The Lord Of The Rings all those years ago. Since then, audiences have wanted more. However, those who have read Tolkien’s novels will realize that although there are some clear connections, they are still very different. In addition, technology and filmmaking in general has advanced rapidly over the course of a decade, particularly the continuous use of CGI, the re-birth of 3D and now the new frame-rate of 48 per second. Therefore, it is important for audiences to not expect to see everything in The Hobbit that was seen in The Lord Of The Rings. Considering that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does not quite grasp the epic scale of human drama like its predecessors, it is still an absolutely fantastic return to Middle-Earth.

Originally Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy) was to direct The Hobbit series but continuous delays of the project and his desire to work on others, Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson replaced him and makes his sensational return to Middle-Earth. With this decision, questions were raised about whether any similarities from Fellowship Of The Ring would be added into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to kick off the trilogy. In that sense, An Unexpected Journey is similarly structured through a prologue, a long build-up to the forthcoming adventure and we meet many new faces that emphasizes a new but past Middle-Earth. The breath-taking advanced technological effects, particularly the 48fps and experiencing the film in 3D (methods that we never saw in Lord Of The Rings), helps provide a visual difference that grasps the feeling of a past setting. In addition, the source material of An Unexpected Journey (the original novel) is a children’s book. The more colourful tone of An Unexpected Journey overshadows the dark atmosphere. Therefore, Jackson using new techniques in terms of art direction, cinematography and visual effects, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey provides not only a new cinematic breakthrough but also gives the audience another side to Middle-Earth.

Like in the entire Lord Of The Rings trilogy, the ensemble cast of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is almost entirely filled with male actors. These consist of new additions into Middle-Earth and some are returning. In the leading role is Martin Freeman as younger Bilbo Baggins. Freeman’s performance accurately exemplifies the simple-minded and nervous yet brave, heroic and intelligent nature of Bilbo that was portrayed within the book. Plus, Freeman is identically a younger Ian Holm, who made a brief reappearance as elder Bilbo. Therefore, Peter Jackson did not go wrong with selecting his young or old Bilbo Baggins. Richard Armitage portrays Dwarf warrior and pack leader Thorin Oakenshield. Armitage expresses Thorin as a bitter and grumpy individual with a lot of hatred towards Elves and deep desire to reclaim Erebor. However, at the same time, like most warriors, he is a brave, heroic soul, which clearly indicates that he is the Aragorn of this Hobbit trilogy. In Thorin’s company are twelve other Dwarves. The large number of them raises a curious question but Jackson marvelously gives each of these Dwarves an equal amount of on-screen time. None of the other twelve outshine one another and they all feel part of the group.

On the other hand, we see many of those returning to the cast from Lord Of The Rings. First, there is Ian McKellen who reprises his role as Gandalf. This time, he is back as the Gandalf we knew from Fellowship Of The Ring, where he is a more emotionally engaging wizard with his own trademark image – his grey beard, pointy hat and wooden staff. Another addition who makes his return in An Unexpected Journey is Andy Serkis as Gollum. He is still the same scheming and sinister creature that we experienced in Lord Of The Rings. However, there is a slight comedic touch to Gollum which slightly enlightens the dark, suspenseful scene in a story, primarily for children. We also see cameo re-appearances from Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins and Sir Christopher Lee as Saruman before his betrayal.

An Unexpected Journey concludes on an exciting and mind-blowing note with a fantastic cliffhanger ending that, like Lord Of The Rings taunts the audience by wanting more. Although there are some dark moments in this prequel installment, it works amazingly well as a film for all audiences to enjoy and it stays true to the novel. Film adaptations based on books do not always work purely because what we see on screen can become more the director’s work than the original author’s. In the case of An Unexpected Journey, containing at least half of the book, it works at a balanced level featuring pieces of Tolkien’s storytelling as well as Jackson’s creativity to bring that work to visual life. Nevertheless, they have together opened the gates for more forthcoming adventures in Middle-Earth.

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~ by SJMJ91 on 15/12/2012.

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