At long last, I find myself reviewing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Since this is a big budget, hugely successful Hollywood franchise from the modern era, I will spare giving any background information about the film or what it’s based on. I watched The Hobbit in an IMAX 3D theater, solely so I could catch a 10 minute preview of Star Trek Into Darkness during December 2012 (shallow, I know). After reading other people’s thoughts on the film, I’m left with only one conclusion: did they see the same film as me? Maybe people online have been extremely critical of The Hobbit, comparing it to George Lucas’ insanely over hyped Star Wars prequel trilogy, and basically saying it demonstrates the point where Peter Jackson nuked the fridge and ruined the J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations. On the flip, there’s my opinion. I thought the film was excellent, and may be the favorite of the four Peter Jackson adaptations of Tolkien thus far.

To be honest, The Hobbit is certainly not without flaws. Months leading up to the film, I was arguing with another film buff on the internet who swore up and down that the attempt to pad The Hobbit into three films, running three hours each, would be perfectly fine because all the extra material would only be stuff “from Tolkien’s own hand”, and basically give us lost chapters of what happened in The Hobbit using source material from other books and drafts of the story, etc., etc. I was extremely doubtful of this, because A) The Lord of the Rings movies added plenty of additional things that didn’t originate from Tolkien’s stories, and B) Peter Jackson only has the movie rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so if he did add something that originated in another “Middle Earth” novel like The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien’s relatives wouldn’t hesitate to sue him.

Watching the finished film, it was obviously to me that I had been right, and the “only material from Tolkien’s own hand” guy had been wrong. The film keeps the basic structure of the book and is mostly faithful to how events unfold, but there’s plenty of “padding” in the film that comes from Hollywood and not from J.R.R. Tolkien. The reason why I rate the movie so highly is all the “padding” worked for me, and made the story more enjoyable. There’s a “Pale Orc”character in the movie waging a vengeful quest to seek out and kill Bilbo Baggins and his band of dwarfs. Not from the book, but fun stuff. There’s an action scene involving stone giants attacking our heroes as they journey up the mountain. Again, nowhere in the book, but I loved that scene. We meet a third wizard of Middle Earth, Radagast the Brown (played by one of the former Doctor Who actors himself, Sylvester McCoy). Radagast was in the book Lord of the Rings, but not in the movie adaptation, and certainly not in the novel The Hobbit. But he’s in the film adaptation of The Hobbit, and he really adds some cool stuff to the story, being a nature wizard that brings a porcupine back to life and drives a sleigh pulled by rabbits.

Still, the whole attempt by Peter Jackson to make the film a direct “prequel” to Lord of the Rings wasn’t necessary, and the framing device of having older Bilbo from The Lord of the Rings era relate the story didn’t work, mainly because this wasn’t filmed in 2001 when he was making Lord of the Rings, but eleven years later. The actors are touched up digitally, but no amount of digital magic can disguise the fact that Elijah Wood is now 30 years old and no longer a “youthful lad” of 19 like he was during the latter trilogy. Those scenes could have cut out and it would have given the story much better pacing.

However, most of the complaints I’ve seen for the film simply weren’t valid, in my opinion. People went to go see the movie in a theater that showed the film at a 48 fps frame rate and complained it “ruined” the movie for them and “Hurt their eyes” and “made them sick”, therefore it “sucked”. Well, I must have seen it in a normal 24 fps frame rate, because the movie didn’t bother me at all. I’m sorry they hated their experience at the theater, but it will be “normal” again when you watch it on DVD, so disliking the way it was presented in a theater is no reason to invalidate the entire movie on its own merits. Of course, I agree the running time of three hours was too much and the film could have been tighter, but I’ll just have to disagree that the added material “ruined” the story – I thought all of it worked except the framing device. Still, I wish Peter Jackson would recut the movie on DVD to a more reasonable two hour version, rather than do the opposite and “extend” a movie that was already too long to begin with.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was, overall, a top notch fantasy film and a great start to immersing the audience in the world from the book. The acting, direction (Peter Jackson eats epic for breakfast), music, special effects, and most importantly – the screenplay – blew me away. The screenplay was even more remarkable since most of it was penned by Guillermo del Toro, whose first language is Spanish He did an amazing job of capturing a classic work of English literature, and added some very cool touches to The Hobbit that Jackson would have otherwise skipped. Not a perfect movie, of course, but a great one.

*** ½ out of ****


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