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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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POSTER ART
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FILM DETAILS
Certificate
12A
Cast
Martin Freeman
Richard Armitage
James Nesbitt
Aidan Turner
Stephen Hunter
Graham McTavish
John Callen
Mark Hadlow
Elijah Wood
Ian McKellen
Andy Serkis
Dean O'Gorman
Lee Pace
Evangeline Lilly
Barry Humphries
Luke Evans
Billy Connolly.
Directors
Peter Jackson.
Screenwriters
Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Guillermo del Toro.
Running Time
169 minutes

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Roads go ever, ever on…


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Plot
With the help of "meddling" wizard Gandalf (McKellen), Shire-dwelling hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) finds himself thrust into adventure, embarking on a quest with a small group of dwarves ("not 13 of the best or brightest") to reclaim their treasure and homeland from the dragon Smaug. Meanwhile, a malevolent presence returns to Middle-earth.


Review
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
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“All good stories deserve embellishment,” Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) tells Bilbo (Martin Freeman) before the latter has even left the snug, leathery comfort of his Bag End armchair and embarked on his Unexpected Journey. There is no way this line, a pithy conclusion to a tall tale of Bilbo’s Tookish grandfather (beheads goblin, invents golf), could have been written unknowingly. The Hobbit is a good story. And embellishment, controversially for some, has been the order of Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation — both narratively (An Unexpected Journey is now a trilogy opener rather than part one of two) and visually; this sunnier, 60-years-younger Middle-earth was digitally shot at double the frame rate of the three earlier movies which concerned this mythic realm’s difficult autumn years.

To begin with the first form of embellishment is to immediately address the concern that Jackson and co.’s Hobbit may be a painful inflation of a slim, bedtime storybook, as opposed to The Lord Of The Rings’ leaner interpretation of a vast fantasy-historical epic. Team Jackson looks outside the novel’s narrative (which, while quicker than Rings, is still rich in detail and packed with incident) to the Tolkienverse yonder, and unashamedly treats The Hobbit as a prequel in which the return of Sauron The Deceiver is foreshadowed ominously.

Yet the cutaways to guano-faced nature-wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) nursing hedgehogs, going boss-eyed and rabbit-sledging to creepy ruined forts do feel of limited relevance to the main quest. Beyond Gandalf expressing to a sceptical Saruman (Christopher Lee) his fear that dwarf economy-hoarding wyrm Smaug could come into play as a fiery WMD for “the enemy”, the threads concerning the White Council, the Necromancer and aforementioned fort Dol Guldur— all direct prequel material — have yet to be firmly twined with Bilbo’s relatively modest adventure. He may find the One Ring here, but for now its connection to Sauron is known only by us and Howard Shore’s string section.

Even so, this particular trek to a mountain has been smartly remoulded — the final destination’s always a mountain, this one Lonely rather than Doomed. It is well-paced, bringing in chief antagonist Azog (Manu Bennett), the albino orc-lord barely in the book, who from the start is hunting the “dwarf scum”, soon giving the quest frantic chase movie impetus. Existing set-pieces have been thoughtfully redrafted, so don’t expect the encounter with the trolls (a cockney Three Stooges) to play out as it does in the novel. And new sequences have been added, such as a skirmish with warg-mounted orcs on Rivendell’s borders. The Goblin Town diversion comes replete with Jacksonian grace notes, featuring a neat swinging gantry gag that references King Kong — although he doesn’t let these set-pieces breathe as freely as those in either Rings or Kong. While it’s good to see Gandalf get stuck in like never before, this is no Moria. And despite the running time, there is still the occasional sense that Jackson is rushing, underpinned by the fact that, for all their elaborate individuality, the dwarves remain somewhat amorphous, with only Thorin (an impressive Richard Armitage), Balin (Ken Stott), Bofur (James Nesbitt) and Fili/Kili (Dean O’Gorman/Aidan Turner) given any special attention.

Still, thanks to an Ian Holm-presented prologue, we’re in no doubt as to the significance of their mission. This isn’t just a treasure hunt: this is a desperate gambit to reclaim a homeland for a people who have suffered a generation of bitter diaspora. There is an appeal to the way Tolkien’s book begins small, seemingly trivial — Bilbo the reluctant burglar off on a perilous jaunt — then rises out into something so huge that five armies roll up to the ultimate fracas. But it is appropriate to Jackson’s cinematic rendition of Middle-earth that we should swiftly understand Thorin’s position (part Aragorn, part Boromir) in its weighty narrative history. This comes not only via the prologue, in which we witness the full glory of Erebor and its nuking by malevolent bat-lizard Smaug (of whom there are glimpses), but also an impressive flashback to Thorin’s hard-fought, albeit temporary, triumph over Azog on the slopes outside Moria.

One question raised by the book is: why precisely did Bilbo, a homely fellow and appreciator of simple comforts, agree to head off into such danger? And why didn’t he bail when the going got extreme? These are ingeniously addressed, and in fact form the arc of An Unexpected Journey. The Hobbit Episode I is the story of how Bilbo commits to adventure, how he realises his motive. And Team Jackson’s answer is elegantly simple, a fine-brushed masterstroke of scripting: the creature who just wants to go back home discovers that what he’s doing here is helping these homeless dwarves reclaim theirs.

It’s a concept sold flawlessly by Martin Freeman, perfect casting for the fusty halfling. There really is no other character like Bilbo in Tolkien’s chronicles, and he is arguably this saga’s strongest: a proper, decent, everyday sort of chap (if a little on the conservative side) whose resourcefulness is drawn from a deep well of inner strength. Not as beleaguered as Frodo, nor as acquiescent as Samwise, nor as comical as Merry and/or Pippin. “I’m not a hero or a warrior,” Bilbo asserts. He’s us. And Freeman encapsulates that throughout, without mugging or winking. His Bilbo does take his predicament seriously, and while this is the jauntiest — at times silliest, at times funniest, certainly the most child-friendly — Middle-earth movie yet, Freeman remains its emotional lodestone.

The most powerful moment comes during the Riddles In The Dark incident, which briefly brings back Andy Serkis’ Gollum, the other arguably strongest character in the saga. It is a joy and a thrill to once more see mo-cap master Serkis owning the role, and to have the celebrated encounter brilliantly re-envisioned through the prism of the Sméagol/Gollum split personality. However, the true punch of poignancy comes at that most pivotal of moments: when Bilbo, invisibly standing over Gollum with sword at his throat, exercises mercy. Jackson holds on Freeman’s face. This isn’t just Tim-from-The Office or Watson in pointy ears, but an actor at the height of his prowess finding every layer to a character it now seems he was born to play.

So what, finally, of that other embellishment, the history-making visual treatment? 48 frames per second is, as they say, something else. And you can take that both ways. On the one hand, the crispness of detail is almost overwhelming, whether you’re noticing the seam down the back of Gandalf’s hat, or repulsed by the scabby goitre dangling from the Great Goblin’s (Barry Humphries) hideously distended face. On the other, there’s something about the lack of grain and motion blur that oddly makes the movie feel less epic — it’s so immediate and intimate that the distance between seat and screen is all but removed. This may make you feel more thrillingly part of the action, or it may diminish the spectacle and unflatteringly highlight the film’s more set-bound nature. Something to bear in mind when deciding if you’re going to seek out the upgraded experience.


Verdict
It may deal in part with a (literal) phantom menace, but this is thankfully not The Phantom Menace. The Hobbit plays younger and lighter than Fellowship and its follow-ups, but does right by the faithful and has a strength in Martin Freeman’s Bilbo that may yet see this trilogy measure up to the last one. There is treasure here.


Reviewed by Dan Jolin


Related Reviews
Books
Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — Official Movie Guide, The
 
Games
Hobbit, The
 

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Your Reviews

Average user rating for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Empire Star Rating

RE: What a shameful star count...

I read a fascinating article way back when about the way the brain processes things and the filmmakers had misunderstood something about 48fps and it's just we don't really work with it. ... More

Posted by elab49 at 16:31, 23 April 2013 | Report This Post


RE: What a shameful star count...

I think part of the problem with the 'fake looking' CGI people have mentioned is to do with framerates. Your normal CG_-heavy film runs at 24fps, which is the baseline framerate for all the computer animators to work to. Even then, that doesn't always happen. Anyone who's looked closely at Transformers: ROTF can tell that a lot of the CGI was animated at a sub-24 framerate. You only have to look at some of the Skids and Mudflaps scenes to witness the sort of jerky motion reminiscent of s... More

Posted by jackflaps at 14:51, 23 April 2013 | Report This Post


What a shameful star count...

Empire... Empire... EMPIRE!!! One of the most greatest things about this magazine, and it's something that I as a film watcher and reviewer value, is your up-most honesty. There will always be film and hopefully, Empire's faith in film to deliver some of the witty, thought provoking, but faithful and honest reviews. And as a reader and fan, I have enjoyed reading, and disagreeing, with some of the words printed in those pages. But; a dark cloud has moved over me... Suddenly, the pages were flus... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by YouWillBeUnprepared at 00:29, 21 April 2013 | Report This Post


Not for the faithful?

I enjoyed The Hobbit up to a point - the dwarves were comical and 'tea at 4' well rendered. Andy Serkis as Gollum and Martyn Freeman as Bilbo were both excellant. But what happened to the Trolls' dialogue? That bore no resemblance to Tolkien! Great shame as it was always one of our favourite parts of the book and the dialogue in LOTR films bore very close resemblance to the written (even where rejigged to other places/characters). Could have done without Radagast too. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HelenOLC at 16:46, 15 April 2013 | Report This Post


Not for the faithful?

I enjoyed The Hobbit up to a point - the dwarves were comical and 'tea at 4' well rendered. Andy Serkis as Gollum and Martyn Freeman as Bilbo were both excellant. But what happened to the Trolls' dialogue? That bore no resemblance to Tolkien! Great shame as it was always one of our favourite parts of the book and the dialogue in LOTR films bore very close resemblance to the written (even where rejigged to other places/characters). Could have done without Radagast too. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by HelenOLC at 16:46, 15 April 2013 | Report This Post


RE: A superb return!

Finally got around to watching it, and... yeah... I didn't really enjoy it. Didn't like it much at all, actually. There's so much fat on this movie that it just feels like a confused, bloated mess. The frequently lousy dialogue, uninteresting characters, bad guys that make Bond villains seem fully-fleshed and weird CGI (some of the work on Ian Holm made him look like a waxwork) were massively frustrating. Besides which, there is so much in this movie that we've already seen in LotR (but done fa... More

Posted by superdan at 22:48, 12 April 2013 | Report This Post


A superb return!

I love this movie and think Jackson is perfect for middle earth. I love the way he's turned it into an epic, it was 3 hours that happily flew by for me. A superb and very welcome return to middle earth! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dannyfletch at 22:11, 08 April 2013 | Report This Post


freeman and the cast were perfect but again serkis stole the show ... More

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Posted by pulp_frankenstein at 13:15, 08 April 2013 | Report This Post


BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!!

Can't wait for part 2 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ciaran McDaid at 17:27, 22 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

L: BelovedAunt L: Lisamoviegeek I didn't watch Lord of the Rings, so I had no idea what to expect. It was long, but quite exciting. I had to go to the bathroom at some point when they were in the elves' valley. My friend joined me and when we came back they were fighting against some stone giants and Gandalf was gone in the next scene. I assumed he died, but then he turned up against when they were inside the mountains. What happened to him? Did he fall off the cliff, but stil... More

Posted by Lisamoviegeek at 03:40, 08 February 2013 | Report This Post


RE: It was quite good

ACtually I'd agree with you on the acting.. Richard Armitage and Ken Stott were good, as was Freeman (although I thought he got quite lost through most of the movie).. the rest of the Dwarves though were pretty shit. James Nesbitt was basically James Nesbitt with eyeliner and it did make me laugh the way the best looking blokes weren't given any prosthetics at all. The problem with the Hobbit as a story is that apart from the names the dwarves aren't fleshed out as individual characters so you'... More

Posted by chris wootton at 15:00, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: It was quite good

Oh dear, what has Peter Jackson done? We went to see it last night and I really wish I hadn't. The whole look of the film was like a bad TV movie you'd get on the SyFi channel. By filming in 48fps, the film lost its heart and soul. There were occasions however that it looked great (the eagle rescue scene and gollum scene in particular) where it actually looked like a different film to the rest of the movie, scenes that had a bit of life and soul as opposed to what the rest of the film look... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by MuckyMuckMan at 09:27, 31 January 2013 | Report This Post


It was quite good

There's no way it should be three movies though.. they really dragged the story out I thought. Not sure I can be arsed with another 6 hours ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by chris wootton at 10:12, 30 January 2013 | Report This Post


The Hobbit

I really enjoyed the film with my dad and he waited a long time to see it. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Catwoman20 at 09:28, 24 January 2013 | Report This Post


Need to read this again!

Not read this for ages and really need to after seeing the film. Am thinking hardback with ace illustrations. Can anyone recommend a version that might do the trick please? There seem to be quite few options out there! ... More

Posted by giddig at 18:06, 21 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

i was excepting a lot more of this film. there was not enough "epicness" for me... in the lotr parts legolas was going in shooting down 10 orks with his bow and in the hobbit... well they cant fight 3 giants with 12 ppl.... i dont like stuff like that... hope the second one will be a lot better ! i´d give this 6/10 ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by BooooomxD at 11:06, 21 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

L: jonson Well, without wishing to critisise it too much, and the fact I don't have time, I'll make this quick. I was really dissapointed, bored and it all felt like Jackson has cobbled together the silly bits that didn't make the LOTR films. ] Gollum - best scene by a mile (Riddles in the dark) Martin Freeman - played Bilbo really well, even if he does just play himself The first half an hour. I've read a few negative things about the first half hour but I thought it was ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sanchia at 21:58, 20 January 2013 | Report This Post


A fable for modern times, alright...

So an interfering geriatric press-gangs a contented homeowner into a travelling gang, to "recover" a kingdom which was little more than a glorified mining corporation, whose wealth was amassed by a mentally ill chrysophilist, instructing his employees to strip the valuable innards out of Middle Earth? With capitalism like that as a starting point, it's no wonder Warner Bros want you to pay £10-£18 for one third of a story... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by TheMightyBlackout at 21:21, 20 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

When I saw it I was quite satisfied. Like the book,its intention was to lure kids into the fantasy genre so flaws were expected. But I found this movie as one of the best poor 2012 had to offer. Although I'm giving it 4 stars,Riddles in the Dark scene was below expectations ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by AndroD at 11:10, 19 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

L: Phubbs a fat Kiwi. Nice. ... More

Posted by MonsterCat at 08:17, 19 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Well here we go again with another overly long grandiose epic based on some small unknown tale courtesy of a fat Kiwi. The much anticipated prequel trilogy (yes trilogy, don't get me started) to another somewhat well known literacy tale by some bloke called Token?. er the misty mountains cold, to dungeons deep and caverns old'ep this gorgeous line pretty much gives you the perfect clue to what to expect in this adventure, many caves and many caverns, ... More

Posted by Phubbs at 05:07, 19 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: WOW

I'm watching this tomorrow night. The plot has been spoiled for me (thanks Twitter feed) but I'm still plenty looking forward to it. ... More

Posted by Spiked at 20:48, 17 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: WOW

Saw this at quarter to midnight, 3D IMAX Gateshead - and after the FOURTY ODD MINUTES WORTH of adverts and trailers had finished.... Well, I am an LOTR nut. Obsessive. I own a One Ring I purchased from WETA, which I wear every day. I own multiple editions of the book, the nicest being the 50th Anniversary Edition I bought from the US. My loft is filled with Middle Earth reference books and anything LOTR I can get my hands on. But I have never been a fan of the Hobbit, and the film did ... More

Posted by Drone at 21:45, 16 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit

Finally got round to seeing this and am so happy to be back in Middle Earth. The LOTR trilogy are some of my favorite films (I can watch them, the extras, the commentaries, any time), so I was very excited to see The Hobbit. It was a bit of a surreal experience in truth, and I think I need to see it again in 2D and at 24fps to really judge, but I had a wonderful time with it. It took some getting used to with the 48fps/3D but once I accepted it, the whole film was elevated to this insane visual... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Quint at 20:45, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post


WeeReviews The Hobbit

Overall the return to middle earth is a good one but not without its problems. Although the story and pacing can drag it down from time to time, the performances and immersive world mean you’ll struggle to keep your eyes off the screen until the very end. Its actually a shame that this trilogy wasn't made first as it seems the events and scale can never live up to what we have already witnessed. While it may not be as exciting as you expected, its still definitely a journey worth taking. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by weereviews at 12:37, 11 January 2013 | Report This Post


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