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STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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Tragic 1 Star

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

48 FPS,WHY?

Just watched The Hobbit An Unexpected....yaddayadda and all I have to say is this; Why the hell do the cinema going public, now have to see their blockbusters played twice as fast? It's ridiculous! It's distracting and the most ironic thing is,it looks cheap. Why Pete,why?? As for my thoughts on the actual film itself,find out in the next part of this 6,no 60,no wait... 600 part review!!! Will be written @ .3 wps,or slower ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Snake 4Skin at 02:17, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post


48 FPS,WHY?

Just watched The Hobbit An Unexpected....yaddayadda and all I have to say is this; Why the hell do the cinema going public, now have to see their blockbusters played twice as fast? It's ridiculous! It's distracting and the most ironic thing is,it looks cheap. Why Pete,why?? As for my thoughts on the actual film itself,find out in the next part of this 6,no 60,no wait... 600 part review!!! Will be written @ .3 wps,or slower ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Snake 4Skin at 02:17, 10 January 2013 | Report This Post


I really expected this (and prepared myself for it) to be extremely mediocre and a sore thumb standing out in the Lord of the Rings saga - however, I was surprised. Although this film is a lot lighter (in parts) this means a different tone, meaning different acting, and perhaps cheesier dialog. Apart from this and adjusting to the frame rate for the first 10 minutes, I found this almost competing with it's sequels. Martin Freeman was perfect, as was McKellen. Very excited for the next instalme... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 23:48, 09 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

The film never failed to keep me watching and plenty of stand out moments (the trolls, goblin king and of course Gollum) however it was definitely too long. On more than one occasion I found myself sat there thinking "okay I get it, now get on with it!" The beginning is definitely the biggest problem, too much back-story and exposition which seemed to ground the film to a halt before it had even started. Also, not certain the book-end sequence with Frodo/Bilbo was really required, adding to whi... More

Posted by JayDubya at 15:33, 08 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

L: Deviation L: clownfoot Whilst it's another film about a very long walk to a fucking mountain, I flipping well enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Good fun, like the book, and the excellent (unexpected party, trolls, riddles in the dark) kind of makes up for the mediocre (rock giants, escape from the misty mountains, a complete lack of understanding that no-one knows this is the one ring yet and is simply a method for making Bilbo a better thief). It didn't even feel like a clo... More

Posted by clownfoot at 10:02, 07 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: Too much of Nothing

So The Hobbit in 3D HFR, WTF or FTW? Actually a little bit of both. It's not nearly as horrible looking as some may have you believe but it takes a hell of a lot of getting used to. Some shots look fantastic in the format (big sweeping shots )but others look just "wrong" (almost on fast forward). Overall not nearly as bad as I feared. Still prefer the 24fps I saw in the Imax version though that may well just because it's what I'm used to It's an enjoyable film that managed to hold my inte... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Scruffybobby at 18:27, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


Too much of Nothing

I understand that this trilogy was made just for the money but they could at least make it worth our money. It was just for the kids. They even got me to not care about Bilbo! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by smakris04 at 10:54, 06 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

Now I know that the Tolkien fan boys will love this film and think it'll be the best film of the year. Yeaaah...nooo...maybe? I went in wanting to see certain things and, while I got what I wanted, there were a few things that left be thinking "Oh...that's a bit stupid". Certain character such as Radagast the Brown (Slyvester McCoy) were just annoying and it does start off too slowly and drags a bit but once they get to Rivendell, things REALLY pick up! Martin Freeman is great as the new (... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by OpinionatedMovieGoer at 13:20, 05 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

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 still survived somehow? lr... More

Posted by BelovedAunt at 09:59, 04 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

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 still survived somehow? ... More

Posted by Lisamoviegeek at 20:04, 03 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

L: shool I thought it was ruddy brilliant. My expectations were low after hearing the mixed reviews, however this enthralled and captivated me. I thought the additions of material that werent in the book were natural and not shoe horned in. I'd give this 9/10. agree. Dont think it dragged remotely and it felt great to get another almost 3 hours in middle earth. Was fully prepared to feel let down but I thought it was thoroughly enjoyable. ... More

Posted by BelovedAunt at 15:20, 03 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

L: clownfoot Whilst it's another film about a very long walk to a fucking mountain, I flipping well enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Good fun, like the book, and the excellent (unexpected party, trolls, riddles in the dark) kind of makes up for the mediocre (rock giants, escape from the misty mountains, a complete lack of understanding that no-one knows this is the one ring yet and is simply a method for making Bilbo a better thief). It didn't even feel like a close to a three hour mo... More

Posted by Deviation at 00:17, 03 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

Whilst it's another film about a very long walk to a fucking mountain, I flipping well enjoyed it more than I was expecting. Good fun, like the book, and the excellent (unexpected party, trolls, riddles in the dark) kind of makes up for the mediocre (rock giants, escape from the misty mountains, a complete lack of understanding that no-one knows this is the one ring yet and is simply a method for making Bilbo a better thief). It didn't even feel like a close to a three hour movie and just whizz... More

Posted by clownfoot at 22:20, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

On initial viewing, I was somewhat bewildered at the amount of 'deus ex machina' on show in AUJ, but then when I went back to the book, I had to accept that a great many of these were based on stuff from Tolkien (especially the terribly convenient arrival of the eagles). These things happen a lot in kids books, after all. (Utterly random example from HP & The Deathly Hallows - Harry, Ron and Hermione are trapped miles underground in Gringotts, but it's ok, because they can blast their way out r... More

Posted by BelfastBoy at 13:00, 02 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 rea... More

Posted by LEEJGM at 12:22, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

I thought it was ruddy brilliant. My expectations were low after hearing the mixed reviews, however this enthralled and captivated me. I thought the additions of material that werent in the book were natural and not shoe horned in. I'd give this 9/10. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by shool at 12:15, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post


RE: 24 FPS!!!!

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 really fun. ... More

Posted by jonson at 12:12, 02 January 2013 | Report This Post


24 FPS!!!!

I’ll be damned if Jackson can squeeze yet another two more movies out of the obviously too slim storyline – and yet – and yet - you can’t help being swept away by the technical brilliance and sheer utter conviction by which this film is presented and made. The monsters look real, the forests are green and verdant – and Middle Earth looks like it really truly exists. And how come Sylvester McCoy wasn’t cast in the original trilogy? He seems tailor made for this... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by ROTGUT at 16:33, 31 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: 48fps stuttery???

I enjoyed it, but feels like I've watched the first part of a good boxset and not a satisfying film. ... More

Posted by Invader_Ace at 19:07, 29 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: 48fps stuttery???

L: supes2000 having just got back from watchin the hobbit i feel i have to ask if anybody else has had the same experience as me. i watched the film in 48fps 3d in imax and from the very begining it felt like the film was being played faster than it should maybe 1.2. when bilbe moved around or picked something up it happened to fast now i can only assume this was due to the 48fps because all audio was in sync dont get me wrong though i really enjoyed the clarity that 48fps brings to the f... More

Posted by jobloffski at 03:31, 26 December 2012 | Report This Post


Went back to see this in 48 fps having loved it in 24 fps and I have to say it completely ruined the entire experience for me. There's blatant speed up that reminded me of Benny Hill and when it worked there was so much detail you didn't really know what to look at. If this is the future of cinema then I am in trouble :( ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by sephiroth7 at 12:40, 25 December 2012 | Report This Post


Average

Visually, particularly in 34fpm and 3D, this is stunning. However.......... it is still too Lord of the Ringsy for me with characters taking seemingly aeons to traverse places fighting the odd troll and getting nowhere at all. Personally, I think I would have been happy just seeing the Gollum bit and leaving the cinema 20 minutes later! While the 48 frames per minute did make the film feel more 'real,' I think it is true you can have too much of a good thing and at times, it felt almost too... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by filmsunlimited at 12:40, 25 December 2012 | Report This Post


An Unexpected Journey

A grave disappointment in comparison to Peter Jackson's previous foray into Middle Earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is nonetheless an entertaining adventure in its own right. That said, the source novel remains far richer than anything Jackson and company have to offer. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by movienut707 at 15:48, 24 December 2012 | Report This Post


48fps stuttery???

having just got back from watchin the hobbit i feel i have to ask if anybody else has had the same experience as me. i watched the film in 48fps 3d in imax and from the very begining it felt like the film was being played faster than it should maybe 1.2. when bilbe moved around or picked something up it happened to fast now i can only assume this was due to the 48fps because all audio was in sync dont get me wrong though i really enjoyed the clarity that 48fps brings to the fore but i for one co... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by supes2000 at 19:48, 22 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Disappointment

Dear Mr Jackson, please remember that as a filmmaker, the amount of 'information' the 48fps put onto the screen may well wow you, as a filmmaker, because you are looking at films from the perspective of a filmmaker and have a different mindset. In general, the 'magic' of cinema comes when what is seen reaches the mind and heart and creates an emotional response. If you give the eyes too much to do, with clarity of image and, yes, 3D, the level to whivh the eyes are kept busy means there is... More

Posted by jobloffski at 15:05, 22 December 2012 | Report This Post


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