Lord of the Rings The Hobbit
An Unexpected Journey
dir Peter Jackson
scr Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
prd Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner with Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Lee Pace, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries
release UK 13.Dec.12, US 14.Dec.12
12/New Zealand NewLine 2h49
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Boistrous houseguests: Freeman and three of 13 dwarves

mckellen serkis nesbitt
The Desolation of Smaug (2013) The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Jackson returns to Tolkien with an expanded three-film epic based on a rather simple novel. But never mind, with this opener he signals his intention to turn a straightforward journey into a sprawling opus. Although his use of 3D and 48-frames technology makes it look striking different from the earlier trilogy.

Sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings, Bilbo (Freeman) is enlisted by the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) for an adventure with 13 rambunctious dwarves led by Thorin (Armitage). Their mission is to reclaim the dwarf kingdom and the Arkenstone, symbol of Thorin's royal lineage. As they travel they're set upon by vicious wolf-riding orcs, hungry trolls, mountainous rock-monsters and greedy goblins. They also stop at Rivendell seeking help from elf leaders Galadriel and Elrond (Blanchett and Weaving), although the wizard Saruman (Lee) is sceptical about their quest.

The story opens with the older Bilbo (Ian Holm), including a glimpse of Frodo (Elijah Wood), and along the way Jackson continually links the two trilogies together through characters and settings, hints of doom and of course Howard Shore's swirling score. In the process, he turns Bilbo's journey into something much grander than it is in the book, cranking up the emotional stakes and physical threat. And he fills the screen with fascinating characters and images, even if the dialog isn't terribly complex.

Freeman is a likeable everyman, although Bilbo's moments of heroic bravery are a bit sudden. His encounter with the underworld creature Gollum (Serkis) is strikingly well-shot and performed, showing the huge leap in performance-capture technology over the past decade. Although we still can't understand much of what Gollum says. Of the dwarves, only a few register as proper characters, but Armitrage's stubborn, wounded Thorin is compelling. And as before McKellen steals his scenes with a twinkle in his eye.

More contentious is the technology: the 3D feels superfluous, while the 48-frames images make a cinema screen look like a gigantic television showing an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. Albeit one with much better production values, astonishingly detailed effects work and a hugely emotive story that builds through a series of mammoth set pieces (the goblin lair is especially elaborate) that leave us looking forward to more of the shadowy Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) as well as the sleeping dragon Smaug.

cert 12 themes, violence 9.Dec.12

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© 2012 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall