The Hobbit has been on the minds of fans ever since we heard The Lord of the Rings would be made into films first. It’s actually a very ambitious story to translate to film when you consider the book’s intended demographic of children; whereas The Lord of the Rings was definitively a story for adults. However, director Peter Jackson seems to have a very clear idea of how to balance The Hobbit.
The Hobbit seemed like a long time coming but it was well worth the wait. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is long. However it doesn’t seem bloated. Despite a slower pace than the LOTR trilogy, it feels calmer and more deliberate. Utilizing an expanded story thanks to the Appendices, Unfinished Tales and Silmarillion, the characters and story feel more flushed out and not rushed. Yes there are changes from the book, (introducing an enemy for Thorin), but they don’t ruin the movie. The pacing is refreshing. It gives the audience adequate breathing room between our action sequences and story development. While some may find the scenes with Radagast and Rivendell overly long, they actually work to successfully bridge The Hobbit to The Fellowship of the Ring just as intended. Whatever complaints I may have about the film are minimal when shown against the ultimate canvas of the finished product.
The film is also wonderfully acted – particularly by Martin Freeman (Bilbo). It’s whimsical, lighthearted and relaxed. It still has the emotional impact and tension at the right moments, something Jackson has gotten better at in each film. As expected, Sir Ian McKellan also gives a great performance as Gandalf the Grey. The mysterious yet playful Gandalf from The Fellowship of the Ring is back, but as equally suspicious of the growing doom of Middle-Earth. Additionally, the Riddles in the Dark scene was perfect and absolutely how I imagined it as a kid when I read the book. Andy Serkis (Gollum) and Freeman have wonderful chemistry and it provides another layer to the complexity of Gollum/ Smeagol.
As for the High Frame Rate and visual aspect of the film, it’s remarkable. At first it is a bit jarring. It seems almost too real and in that sense fake, but you then lose yourself and remember that life in fact actually looks like that! The Hobbit is crisp, bright and clean. Yes, there are times that the CGI seems a bit fake, but when the rest of the film is as beautiful, you don’t give it a second notice. The 3D is used to expand the film visually and very rarely for sight gag and thanks to HFR is smooth and you forget it actually is 3D. It was an immense joy to watch. The scenery is beautiful and breathtaking. Echoing the travel scenes from Fellowship, The Hobbit also gives us glorious wide shots of the early journey and the HFR and 3D give it unimaginable scope.
The film seems inevitable to divide people on the HFR vs standard 24 frames/ second, but Jackson may indeed have begun the change to a new cinema experience. Change is unsettling and people are inherently resistant to it, but when its all said and done, this is absolutely a film to see in the theaters; and more importantly one to be seen in HFR if you’re lucky enough to have a theater projecting it in that format as Jackson intended it to be seen.
Verdict: See In Theaters!