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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
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Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
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

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Disappointment

So having seen the two frame rates that are available I must echo the question that others have asked: WHAT THE HELL WAS JACKSON THINKING???!?!?!!!?! Actually, that's hyperbolic. A post or two above I linked to a blog of Vincent LaForet, a photographer and filmmaker, who pretty much perfectly encapsulated my feelings on the frame rate debate, and having seen the 24fps version, much of what he says about how he related to the film during the regular frame rare echoes true for me as we... More

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 18:51, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I didn’t expect this to be as good as hip of the Ringt’s not, never managing to hit the same heights of that film. So let’s just take a deep breath, temper our expectations and try to assess this on its own terms without comparing. If we do that, there is a lot to enjoy in this first instalment of The Hobbit, not least the performance of Freeman, whose bumbling, slightly hangdog manner perfectly embodies the character of Bilbo, but also hints at a stout heart within. Alongside him, McKellen onc... More

Posted by MOTH at 14:29, 21 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

L: Ref Having now seen The Hobbit in both 24 fps and 48 fps, I can categorically say that 24 fps is so much better. And I can see why the critics have given it a bad time. However, I truly believe that if they first saw it in the lower frame rate then they'd like it. It did work in a few places e.g. Gollum, The Eagles and the landscapes. But any combat sequences and it just looked fake. My advice, stick with 24 fps. t depends on the critic though, I didn't like The Hobbit, ... More

Posted by Deviation at 18:27, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Having now seen The Hobbit in both 24 fps and 48 fps, I can categorically say that 24 fps is so much better. And I can see why the critics have given it a bad time. However, I truly believe that if they first saw it in the lower frame rate then they'd like it. It did work in a few places e.g. Gollum, The Eagles and the landscapes. But any combat sequences and it just looked fake. My advice, stick with 24 fps. ... More

Posted by Ref at 17:32, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Off to see this today in 2D so I'll be able to properly formulate my thoughts on the film, but I think this piece by Vincent LaForet perfectly sums up my feelings on HFR: . ... More

Posted by Filmfan 2 at 12:20, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


Spoiler Free ...

It's excellent but not a classic, much like Fellowship of the Ring compared to Return of the King, so no surprises there. 4 stars feels right. The movie isn't necessarily too long but there is a generous amount of context. That's fine with me though because I like context. I had two problems with the structure. One was that there are a lot of opponents which made it a little episodic. Second was that the main opponent was not the strongest opponent (but I have an idea about who the real opponent... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Nicky C at 11:13, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

L: AxlReznor I'm not sure if a Silmarillion movie would work, but I think a Children Of Hurin movie would. And maybe expand other stories from The Silmarillion into full length (because as I understand it The Silmarillion is pretty much lots of stories from throughout the history of Middle-earth compiled into one publication). n second thoughts, what I would like to see (or at least hear) is Howard Shore's realisation of the song that created Middle Earth. What would it be like? A... More

Posted by ArseOfSauron at 09:57, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: WOW,, Absolutely Fantastic

Also - one 3 hour film might have been enough, but no doubt it would have left me wanting two more ... More

Posted by snazzy_sophie at 06:38, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


WOW,, Absolutely Fantastic

Just saw it tonight on a huge Isense screen in 3d with the 48fps,, Absolutely amazing, never had an experience in the cinema like it before. Took a a few minutes to get used to but after that I couldn't get over how great it was,, well done Peter Jackson. I honestly can't believe some of the negativity this movie has received. Haha, f***ing old dinosaur critic's who were probably sceptic about the switch from VHS to DVD, how do some of you people still have jobs?? The story and sense of adventu... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jamie_M at 03:38, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I expected this to be a disappointment that could in no way live up to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was actually in a state of panic the night before the ‘main event’. Luckily I was proved entirely wrong. Although The Hobbit (part 1) does not carry the same sense of end of the world urgency that LoTR did, instead having a lighter, more childish tone; it was a complete joy to be back in Jackson’s Middle Earth. I admit I am not a Tolkien fan, in fact, The Hobbit and LoTR... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by snazzy_sophie at 01:51, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

I i] this film. I didn't love it which is the main difference between this and LOTR. It just felt rather middle of the road, and farely standard compared to LOTR which is just brilliant. My favourite scenes were those that had characters from LOTR; Gollum was absolutely the highlight of the film. He'd never looked better and he was hilarious as well as creepy. Cate Blanchett was great as well. Other than that I wasn't too impressed - some of the effects were 'ok' at best, and I do agree it was ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by england_cmr at 01:33, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


Much better than I expected and much better than I remember the book being. Gollum is brilliant, as are the set pieces... just a bit too much talking - could have done with an edit to warrant 5 stars ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by philshepp at 00:10, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: A Joyful Return to Middle Earth

Well, I loved it. Not getting the criticisms of it being overly long or dragging at all. To me there was very little down time. I enjoyed it immensely, although nowhere near the level of the LOTR trilogy (seriously, anyone who thought it was going to be as good as those wasn't thinking straight), it felt great to be back in that environment and to see characters you knew. I didn't see it in 48fps or 3D, so this is purely based on the film itself and NOT a take on those elements, which a ton of ... More

Posted by Coyleone at 00:06, 20 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: HFR? Loved it!

I'm genuinely dumbstruck on why the clarity which many people are accliaming, considering how the effects and prosthetics are made right now, should be seen as a good thing. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 22:46, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


HFR? Loved it!

I've watch it twice, first in my local IMAX and I was disappointed in both the quality of the picture, the 3d and the seats. I was too close to the screen to enjoy it. Decided to try the HFR version two nights later, had read the negative comments, but was still curious. I LOVED THE HFR VERSION. I'm sure it's a purely subjective thing, but I was struck by the clarity, great3d and I completely disagree with those who say it isn't cinematic. Can't way to see the next instalments I will only go for... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jesservensen at 17:59, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

L: Deviation L: ArseOfSauron It would have been dull if the eagles had dropped them off and they'd just hung about chatting until Durin's Day. t would be a bit like AUJ then.ote] Walked into that one, didn't I? ... More

Posted by ArseOfSauron at 15:36, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


I LOVED IT!

I am amazed at some of the negative reviews. Most definitely NOT Jackson's Phantom Menace. It is a truly fantastic visual spectacle. I can't wait to watch it again, if only for the twinkling in Gandalf's eyes. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by El-Branden Brazil at 15:06, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

L: ArseOfSauron It would have been dull if the eagles had dropped them off and they'd just hung about chatting until Durin's Day. t would be a bit like AUJ then. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 14:58, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

Interesting idea. I like The Matrix trilogy almost as much as I like the LotR one, but I still didn't particularly enjoy The Animatrix. I've never watched it since the first viewing. I don't think shorts are as immersive as feature-length films. I mean, people complained about the lack of individual characterisation in the 3-hour Unexpected Journey! No doubt what you say about Warner Bros is true. ... More

Posted by ArseOfSauron at 14:31, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

I'm not sure if a Silmarillion movie would work, but I think a Children Of Hurin movie would. And maybe expand other stories from The Silmarillion into full length (because as I understand it The Silmarillion is pretty much lots of stories from throughout the history of Middle-earth compiled into one publication). Or failing that, an Animatrix style DVD release of animated shorts based on things from that/the Appendices/Unfinished Tales. I'm sure there are ways that Warner Bros are contemp... More

Posted by AxlReznor at 14:17, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

True, it's just bliss to spend more time in Middle Earth - the longer, the better really. Not sure I could have withstood an unadulterated film version of The Silmarillion (better or worse than Gandalf on the toilet? Not sure). Actually, a quick Google search has revealed that have actually mooted this idea1.gif] I wonder if that is the problem at the heart of people's criticism of The Hobbit. In foreshadowing elements of the War of the Rings, it has tried to recreate the urgent force of t... More

Posted by ArseOfSauron at 14:07, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

Absolutely loved this film, but then I am a huge Tolkien fan. PJ could've had 3 hours footage of Gandalf sat on a toilet & I'd have watched it-as long as it was a toilet in Middle Earth ... More

Posted by pauljthomas at 13:28, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

It would have been dull if the eagles had dropped them off and they'd just hung about chatting until Durin's Day. ... More

Posted by ArseOfSauron at 11:59, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

The story for this entire franchise only exists because the eagles are dicks. ... More

Posted by Deviation at 02:53, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


RE: Riddles in the Dark

The Eagles are dicks. ... More

Posted by Pigeon Army at 02:45, 19 December 2012 | Report This Post


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