The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby Sabin » Mon Dec 24, 2012 11:00 am

OscarGuy wrote
I was referring to the battle with Smaug and the battle at Dol Guldur. These are the film's two pieces of urgency while the former may seem less dramatic, as Gandalf mentions in his conversation with the Council, while dragons don't typically take sides, having the beast on the side of the Necromancer would be dangerous indeed.

Copy that. I was referring to "What are they doing?" The thrust of the plot would appear to be "The dwarves are going home."

OscarGuy wrote
What the film doesn't do enough of (mostly because it seems to have forgotten about the three rings given to the Elf Lords) is highlight the aspects of Gandalf and Galadriel that allow them to read portents and forsee certain events in the future. They have great power that they use wisely, which is what makes Saruman such a despicable figure. While he uses his power wisely at first, the Palantir he consults opens his mind to the Dark Lord's wishes and thus he uses his great power for villainy. I cannot recall the events that led him to using the Palantir and if he was already under its sway at the time of The Hobbit, but my inclination is that it is not. During his scenes with the Council, he is not openly hostile, he is somewhat dismissive, but it's largely because he is the leader of the Istari order of wizards (that Gandalf and Radagast belong to) and as such, he needs to remain above the fray and keep a guarded mind with regard to the potential abuses of power that exist in the world. He's cautious because he doesn't want to be wrong and put himself and the people of Middle Earth in danger.

Yeah, I didn't get any of this.


OscarGuy wrote
Anyway, this could be covered in the second film, but I'm not sure it will be. Jackson does seem to have a leaden hand here, but I can see the turning of the wheels and where he is driving the film and its subsequent features. An Unexpected Journey, unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, is more conditioned upon what is delivered in subsequent movies. After all, this is one book broken into three movies. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was based on three separate books. There were natural concluding points in those films that made them easier to segment. The Hobbit being broken up as it has is actually rather interesting, but certainly deserves to be viewed in conjunction with the other two films rather than as an individual cinematic experience.

We've talked about this, but I really don't agree with this point.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Mon Dec 24, 2012 10:51 am

I was referring to the battle with Smaug and the battle at Dol Guldur. These are the film's two pieces of urgency while the former may seem less dramatic, as Gandalf mentions in his conversation with the Council, while dragons don't typically take sides, having the beast on the side of the Necromancer would be dangerous indeed.

What the film doesn't do enough of (mostly because it seems to have forgotten about the three rings given to the Elf Lords) is highlight the aspects of Gandalf and Galadriel that allow them to read portents and forsee certain events in the future. They have great power that they use wisely, which is what makes Saruman such a despicable figure. While he uses his power wisely at first, the Palantir he consults opens his mind to the Dark Lord's wishes and thus he uses his great power for villainy. I cannot recall the events that led him to using the Palantir and if he was already under its sway at the time of The Hobbit, but my inclination is that it is not. During his scenes with the Council, he is not openly hostile, he is somewhat dismissive, but it's largely because he is the leader of the Istari order of wizards (that Gandalf and Radagast belong to) and as such, he needs to remain above the fray and keep a guarded mind with regard to the potential abuses of power that exist in the world. He's cautious because he doesn't want to be wrong and put himself and the people of Middle Earth in danger.

Anyway, this could be covered in the second film, but I'm not sure it will be. Jackson does seem to have a leaden hand here, but I can see the turning of the wheels and where he is driving the film and its subsequent features. An Unexpected Journey, unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, is more conditioned upon what is delivered in subsequent movies. After all, this is one book broken into three movies. The Lord of the Rings trilogy was based on three separate books. There were natural concluding points in those films that made them easier to segment. The Hobbit being broken up as it has is actually rather interesting, but certainly deserves to be viewed in conjunction with the other two films rather than as an individual cinematic experience.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby Sabin » Mon Dec 24, 2012 10:38 am

OscarGuy wrote
That's Gandalf. He has great power, but chooses to use it only when absolutely needed. He wants everyone to live up to their potential with a little goosing along the way. The wizards have great power, but it's not something they can wield repetitively without consequences.

Maybe they should've called it That's Gandalf!

OscarGuy wrote
As to the urgency, there are two pieces to the urgency. Yes, The Hobbit is largely about the dwarves taking back their home. This was, after all, a children's story to begin with, so the premise is a bit thin to start. However, what's in The Hobbit and cobbled-together appendices is largely a set up FOR The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gollum, the One Ring, the Necromancer...they all play significant roles in the Lord of the Rings. The battle with the Necromancer will likely be the culmination of events and putting together the capabilities of Elrond, Gandalf, Saruman and Galadriel will be quite an experience, I'm sure.

What's the other piece of urgency? By urgency, I mean thrust to the plot in the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey apropos their quest?

I agree with you that this is a children's story, so giving it the LOTR treatment deflates a lot of charm that I could see. Jackson hath not the lightest touch in the world.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby OscarGuy » Mon Dec 24, 2012 7:54 am

That's Gandalf. He has great power, but chooses to use it only when absolutely needed. He wants everyone to live up to their potential with a little goosing along the way. The wizards have great power, but it's not something they can wield repetitively without consequences.

As to the urgency, there are two pieces to the urgency. Yes, The Hobbit is largely about the dwarves taking back their home. This was, after all, a children's story to begin with, so the premise is a bit thin to start. However, what's in The Hobbit and cobbled-together appendices is largely a set up FOR The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Gollum, the One Ring, the Necromancer...they all play significant roles in the Lord of the Rings. The battle with the Necromancer will likely be the culmination of events and putting together the capabilities of Elrond, Gandalf, Saruman and Galadriel will be quite an experience, I'm sure.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby Sabin » Mon Dec 24, 2012 1:51 am

The biggest problem with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that after three hours of set-up, I didn't really know what was going on. This is an elephantine approach to seemingly an miniature desire. They want to go home. Right? That's what's going on? We're taking the dwarves back home? Again, correct me if I'm wrong and let me know if there are any other stakes at hand. I've read interviews where Peter Jackson says that the last thing he wanted to do was repeat The Fellowship of the Rings. Liar. This is beat. For. Beat. The same movie. It just doesn't have the urgency or thrust. The first hour or so amounts to little more than squabbling. That works in small doses throughout The Lord of the Rings Trilogy as little sidebars, but this whole movie feels like a sidebar.

Some of the wonder is certainly present though. The best thing about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just how much fun it is to be back in this world. Also, Gollum is back to being a murderous little sonovabitch. Such a terrific character and there's a genuine sense of menace whenever he's on-screen with Martin Freeman, who is also a welcome addition to the cast. Anyone who is a fan of BBC'S The Office or Sherlock will be largely kept sane by his likable presence (but no Best Actor OR! Best Supporting Actor inclusions, you fucking fanboys!). The dwarves are pretty anonymous and at this point, Gandalf has to be one of the most inconsistently power-setted creations in modern cinema. There is no rhyme or reason for what exactly he chooses to do at any moment, except whether or not it forwards the movie as desired.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Fri Dec 21, 2012 7:49 pm

This was a little less boring than I feared but I was still bored. Objectively I can't say it's a bad movie. The film and I are just a mismatch, that's all. Jackson loves this material and works as hard as he can to make it the best, most fitting adaptation possible. Once it begins, it's remarkable how aesthetically familiar it feels even eight years later. Martin Freeman is most engaging as new protaganist Bilbo, and the film is best when its at its lightest. The humor is fleet and friendly (but also more juvenile: "I don't remember. It was on the tip of my tongue.... oh no, it's just a stick insect"... that sort of thing), and there are brief snatches of magnificent imagery. A simple shot of Gandalf in silouette emerging into the light was breathtaking in its composition, and there are lots of little touches scattered about. But most of the rest is the usual turgid battles between armies of thousands - even if the special effects have noticeably improved - and the story itself is really stretched out beyond necessity, with little of the forward motion I think most journeys should have. If the first trilogy was designed to create millions more fans of LOTR, this trilogy is clearly for the non johnny-come-lately's. I'd be more forgiving were it two hours long instead of three... or a three hour long first part of a two part film.... or just a single film... but that's a dead horse by now.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:30 am

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (PG-13)

By Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York

Time Out rating: * * * *

A mesmerizing study in excess, Peter Jackson and company’s long-awaited prequel to the Lord of the Rings saga is bursting with surplus characters, wall-to-wall special effects, unapologetically drawn-out story tangents and double the frame rate (48 over 24) of the average movie. It is, in other words, a P.J. & Co. superproduction through and through. The portentously overstuffed prologue alone reintroduces Ian Holm’s elder hobbit, Bilbo Baggins; sets up the villainous, fire-breathing dragon Smaug (here a mostly offscreen presence); includes a cheery cameo from Frodo (Elijah Wood); and finally settles down, 60 years pre-Fellowship, when Gandalf the Grey (the great Ian McKellen) asks younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman, a terrific addition to the Middle Earth players) to accompany him on a life-altering “adventure.” Phew!

This is far removed from the slender J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy novel from which An Unexpected Journey, the first of three features, is sourced. Whereas the book’s pace is breezy, the movie’s rhythms are more measured and deliberate; the first hour is essentially a leisurely character comedy in which Bilbo flounders around his Hobbiton home as it is overrun by Gandalf and his company of 13 dwarves. Then it’s off to the races for our heroes: Mountainous landscapes are clambered over. Growling bands of orcs, trolls and goblins are fought. And a bunch of familiar faces reappear, from the Elvish leaders of Rivendell to that covetous creature who can’t stop muttering about his “pre-shhh-us!”

Even though this installment is mostly a prelude, Jackson’s eccentric mixture of low humor, earnest foreboding and digitally processed pageantry is consistently engaging and immersive. Plus, the higher-than-hi-def visuals (sure to be divisive) are fascinating for how they blur the line between spectator and spectacle; it’s an idiosyncratic move that gives this bulky blockbuster a defiantly personal edge.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:27 am

Review: 'The Hobbit' a ponderous journey

By Charlie McCollum

cmccollum@mercurynews.com

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Posted: 12/11/2012 03:00:00 PM PST

There are some truly wondrous things to behold in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," director Peter Jackson's return to J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth.

The scenery, whether real or CGI, is as stunning as it was in Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. All the dwarfs, trolls, elves, Orcs, goblins and Hobbits are still marvelous bits of movie magic. The battle scenes (and there are lot of them in "The Hobbit") are gripping set pieces.

It's clear from the beginning that Jackson has lost none of his visual flair or his abilities with special effects over the years between the final installment of "Rings" and this new excursion into the land of Tolkien's imagination. What has gone MIA: Jackson's grip on how to tell a story.

The underlying problem with "The Hobbit" is how Jackson and fellow writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro chose to handle the source material. "The Lord of the Rings" was a dense, 1,359-page, three-book epic that dealt with a grim battle to save a whole world. "The Hobbit" is a beloved, 287-page children's novel with a generally lighthearted tone and a simple story line about a young Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, who joins some dwarfs in a quest to free their homeland from the dragon Smaug.

But Jackson and company have seen fit to expand what could have been a fine two-hour or so movie into three films, the first of which clocks in at a hefty 2 hours and 49 minutes (not counting the nearly 20 minutes of end credits).

To beef up the slight tale, they have taken moments encapsuled in one sentence and turned them into full scenes, too many of which feel like outtakes from a DVD set. They have taken characters that are mere footnotes in Tolkien's text -- Azog, a particularly brutish orc, and Radagast the Brown, a nature-loving wizard -- and turned them into major figures. And they have dropped in major characters from the "Rings" movies: Frodo Baggins, the elf queen Galadriel, the elf Lord
Elrond and the wizard Saruman.

Perhaps more important, the filmmakers have changed the movie's tone, with much of the lighter material overwhelmed by the battle and chase scenes, making it more like "Lord of the Rings." Even a major "Hobbit" character -- Thorin Oakenshield, the dwarf leader -- has been changed from a pompous, comical figure into a warrior king a la Viggo Mortensen's Aragon in "Rings."

The result is serious story bloat and a rather ponderous beginning to the "Hobbit" trilogy.

That does not mean the film is without its virtues and engaging moments. Middle Earth truly does come to life throughout the film, whether it is the beautiful and peaceful land of the elves or the ravaged mountain of the dwarfs. The Great Goblin may bear a bit of a resemblance to Jabba the Hutt in "Star Wars" but he's a memorable character as voiced by Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna). Ian McKellen remains an imposing presence as Gandalf, the Grey Wizard.

In Martin Freeman, Jackson may have found the perfect Bilbo Baggins. Freeman is a delight as a quirky Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes in the BBC's new "Sherlock" and he blossoms in the role of Bilbo. He even looks like a younger Ian Holm who played the older Bilbo in "Rings" and reprises his role in "The Hobbit."

Freeman also gets to share the very best scene in the film: the first encounter between Bilbo and Gollum, the emaciated figure who was once the Hobbit Smeagol until he fell under the influence of the ring (yes, that ring). Andy Serkis' performance as Gollum is just as brilliant as it was in the "Rings" and the CGI is even better. Since you know where the scene is leading, it has real punch, the kind of emotional impact that is lacking in much of the movie.

It may be a bit unfair but Jackson has practically invited a comparison between the "Hobbit" trilogy and the second set of "Star Wars" films from George Lucas. Is "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" as bad as "Phantom Menace"? Absolutely not, but it has none of the charm and appeal of Tolkien's book -- and it does not bode particularly well for what eventually be nine hours of filmmaking.

In a bit of irony, Bilbo Baggins says at the end of the movie: "I do believe the worst is behind us." We can only hope so.

* * 1/2
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:24 am

Review from the New Yorker

Ring Cycle
Peter Jackson returns to Middle-Earth.
by Anthony Lane December 17, 2012

The subtitle of “The Hobbit,” written by J. R. R. Tolkien and published in 1937, is “There and Back Again.” Crisp, decisive, and comforting, like the book. The first part of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit”—a three-part screen adaptation—is subtitled “An Unexpected Journey,” though that does little justice to the result. Had Jackson been more accurate, he would have called it “Not Quite There Yet,” or “Still Some Way to Go.”

The story has the simplicity of folklore, but the straightness of the narrative keeps arriving at moral crossroads. Thus, when Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) turns up at the house of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the hobbit in question, and returns the next day with thirteen dwarves, who invite Bilbo to come and steal gold—or, as they believe, reclaim it—from a dragon far, far away, and to receive a share of the plunder, our hero is faced with an elemental choice: stay or go? Rest in the consolatory rhythms of hearth and home, marked out by meals and seasons, or break the pattern and take the unknowable risk? As Gandalf says to Bilbo, “The world is not in your books and maps. It’s out there!”—a sly gibe, which casts an eye not just on hobbitry but on Tolkien, who had fought and seen comrades die in the First World War, and who, from 1926, preferred to ensconce himself in North Oxford, amid the book-lined walls of his own head. The world was in there.

Bilbo, of course, takes the plunge, and the merry band sets forth, toward the obstacle course of dangers that Tolkien devised. There is a trio of loutish trolls, cannibalistic by choice, but as vulnerable as vampires to the light of day; a huge subterranean fiefdom of goblins, although that is a word we hardly hear in the film, which settles on “orcs,” a less Hogwartian term; and a company of wargs—half wolves, half paparazzi—that crouch and bay at the foot of a pine tree, upon whose boughs the treasure-hunters perch. And there, more or less, the film concludes. If anything, I would have preferred Jackson—who, however noisy his films, has a dash of silent-movie showmanship about him—to be even more unabashed in his melodrama, leaving Bilbo to teeter on the brink. After all, Tolkien himself was a surprising master of brinksmanship, and “The Hobbit,” being infinitely brisker than “The Lord of the Rings,” measures out its plot in narrow squeaks. It is populated largely by child-size men: an ideal conceit, allowing child readers to dream of manly deeds and adult readers to recall, however dimly, what it once meant to have a pulse that raced like a child’s.

But there was more to the novel than that—something that squirmed in the murk of its motivations. In “The Lord of the Rings,” the errand of Frodo, though epic in execution, was plain enough: to destroy what would, in the wrong hands, cause irreversible harm. It was like stopping the Nazis from building an atomic bomb. But what the dwarves want, in the pages of “The Hobbit,” is gold, and their lust for it corrodes the quest and tarnishes its valor. That is what lusts do. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, who deplored the vanishing of the Latin Mass, believed in the existence of evil and in the struggle to be delivered from its claws. It is there in every shimmering scale of Smaug, the dragon; deprived by a mouse-quiet Bilbo of a single precious cup, he falls, Tolkien writes, into “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.” Ouch. The dwarves, in their small way, are no less possessed, and the joke is that a hobbit, who wishes nobody ill, should help to lead them into temptation. So many twists of the spirit, in such little space. In my old paperback, Tolkien gets the whole thing done in two hundred and eighty pages, nineteen chapters in all. And how far has Jackson travelled, after almost three hours of cinema? The end of Chapter 6. The corrosion has yet to bite.

There is much to relish here. Martin Freeman, compact and affable, is a snug fit in the difficult role of Bilbo. He is especially adept at hesitation, cocking his head like a sparrow and speaking hurriedly to others, as if trying an idea out on himself. This makes him an excellent foil—better and less wide-eyed than Elijah Wood was, in “The Lord of the Rings”—to McKellen’s Gandalf, with whose lengthy, growling vowels we are already familiar. No less welcome is Richard Armitage, scarcely known here, although he has throbbed hearts on a regular basis on British TV; he now pulls off the task, deemed impossible by every expert on Middle-Earth, of making a dwarf seductive. To be honest, the dwarves come across as a jumble of Brueghel faces, lit with grins, scrunched by scowls, and fronted by bulbous conks; only Armitage, as Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the pack, earns consistent dramatic attention, and he brings the rumpus of the early scenes to a beautiful halt as he pauses to croon, in a yearning baritone, an anthem of dwarf-desire—“Far over the misty mountains cold.” Not before time, it must be said; Jackson has allowed one tea party to linger like a five-course meal, and such blithe elastication is the root of the movie’s fault.

No one could quarrel with Jackson’s scheme to transform the three volumes of “The Lord of the Rings” into a trilogy of films. It was an obvious arrangement, crowned by “The Return of the King” and its eleven Academy Awards—“One for each ending,” in the words of Billy Crystal, our host on Oscar night. If Jackson couldn’t bring himself to bid the franchise farewell, his problem, with “The Hobbit,” is the opposite: how to get going? Like George Lucas, with “The Phantom Menace,” he is constructing a six-film saga in peculiar order. We thus begin not with backstory but, this being Tolkien, with backmyth—the legend of Smaug and the devastation that he wrought long ago. From here, we pass to the aging Bilbo (Ian Holm), and to his recitation of what befell him sixty years before; and from there, at last, we reach the point at which the novel starts. In all, it is three-quarters of an hour before the youthful Bilbo departs, adventure-bound. Because of that delay, there is something doughy and whimsical about the proceedings, as if we were present at the spinning of a yarn.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:22 am

MOVIE REVIEW

THE HOBBIT * * *
Running time: 174 minutes. Rated PG-13 (intense fantasy violence, scary images). Opens Thursday night at midnight at the Lincoln Square IMAX, the E-Walk, the Cinema 1, others.


'The Hobbit' is worth the three-hour journey

By LOU LUMENICK

All good stories deserve embellishment,’’ proclaims Gandalf the Grey early on in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’’ — in what’s amounts to a mission statement for this rewarding, if long-winded, $270 million epic.

The initial installment of an anticipated nine-hour trilogy derived from J.R.R. Tolkien’s 300-page predecessor to “The Lord of the Rings’’ certainly piles on enough eye candy and action sequences to please fans, plus more humor than the three “Rings” films — even if it only occasionally achieves the trio’s grandeur.

It’s the sort of epic that will be most fully appreciated by those who think the most important thing about an adaptation is religious fidelity to the text — not a sentiment that I especially share.

Jackson’s smartest move was to cast the delightful character actor Martin Freeman (fans of Brit TV know him from “The Office’’ and “Sherlock’’) in the central role of the younger Bilbo Baggins for this saga, which is set 60 years before “Rings.’’

Freeman is an improvement over “Rings’’ lead Elijah Wood, who turns up briefly as Frodo in the framing story, where the older version of Bilbo (again Ian Holm) relates his youthful adventures. That’s when Bilbo was recruited by Gandalf (the wonderful Ian McKellen, who appears throughout) for a quest not unlike that undertaken by his nephew Frodo decades later.

The wizard turns up at Bilbo’s door in the Shire with 13 dwarves — largely indistinguishable except for their brooding leader, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, who is fine but no Viggo Mortensen).

The dwarves need Bilbo’s skills as a “burglar’’ for their campaign to take back control of the lost kingdom of Erebor, which years earlier fell under an apocalyptic attack by the fearsome dragon Smaug.

After nearly an hour dominated by comedy and songs, the battles begin in earnest, with enough orc skewerings and goblin beheadings to push the outer limits of the PG-13 rating.

Working from a book one-fifth the length of Tolkien’s “Rings’’ trilogy, Jackson and his co-writers — wife Fran Walsh and Philipa Boyens, his screenwriting partners on “Rings,’’ along with Guillermo del Toro, who was originally going to direct “The Hobbit’’ — have padded the volume out with footnotes from the later books. (Which is where the film’s chief bad guy, the fearsome orc Azog, comes from).

Even a visit to Rivendell (that does come from “The Hobbit’’) seems little more than an excuse for cameos by Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). Well, at least we’re spared Orlando Bloom’s simpering Legolas.

More satisfying is the return of Gollum (Andy Serkis in another motion-capture tour de force), who crosses paths with Bilbo and crucially introduces the magical ring to the saga.

Basically, the film’s last two hours are a series of cliffhangers — in one case quite literally, as a mountain comes to life in a remarkable special effects sequence.

Jackson introduces a controversial new technology with “The Hobbit’’ — in about 400 US theaters, it will be projected at the rate of 48 frames per second, twice the rate that’s been the standard since talkies were introduced in the late 1920s (listings refer to it as HFR, for “high frame rate’’).

In theory, this is supposed to enhance the film’s “reality,’’ sharpen 3-D effects and lessen the blurring that occurs when the camera, people or objects move too rapidly in stereoscopic cinematography.

To my eyes, the rapid motion in the 48-frame version (I didn’t seen the 24-frame version) sometimes seemed jerky, especially when seen in long shots. The bigger problem, though, is an overall look that’s far more like very high-resolution video than film.

I’d stick with the more traditional version of “The Hobbit’’ unless you want to watch a “film’’ where you’re constantly yanked out of the story by sets and props that look like sets and props — plus flattened lighting effects like those you’d find in a TV miniseries.

Hopefully, this will be worked out for the second installment. But the first one, for all its indulgences, is far superior to another much-hyped prequel — George Lucas’ “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.’’
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:20 am

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' review: charming ***

Originally published: December 11, 2012 5:08 PM
Updated: December 11, 2012 5:18 PM
By RAFER GUZMÁN rafer.guzman@newsday.com

Dwarves, orcs and wizards abound in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," and we'll get to them in a moment. But now, a word about frame rates.

"The Hobbit," Peter Jackson's first of three prequels to his "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, is also the first major movie to be shot and projected at 48 frames per second, rather than the usual 24. It's a much-publicized technological advancement but an aesthetic step backward. The high frame rate, or HFR, version of "The Hobbit" has such crystalline, videolike clarity that it reduces everything and everybody to mere props and actors. Swords lack heft, the castles look like dioramas, and light never looks natural, even when it is. The result is a movie about magic that somehow has none.

All this changes at plain old 24 frames per second. (That's how most viewers will see it, since only about 450 North American theaters are showing the HFR version.) Suddenly, Jackson's familiar world looks inviting again, and the actors seem to truly live in it. This "Hobbit" is a fantasy-film cornucopia, with mythical creatures and grand battles woven into an old-fashioned adventure-narrative -- exactly what Jackson does best.

"The Hobbit" is more charming and less serious than the "Lord" films; aside from some gore, it's almost suitable for Tolkien's original demographic, children. That's largely due to an endearing Martin Freeman as homebound hobbit Bilbo Baggins ("No adventures here, thank you!"), who nevertheless joins a band of dwarves seeking to vanquish the dragon Smaug. Freeman is wonderful as a sheltered creature who literally looks up to the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, warm and twinkly as ever) while trying to prove himself to the dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage, looking short but regal).

"The Hobbit" sometimes gets silly (the wizard Radagast, played by Sylvester McCoy, recalls Samantha's dotty aunt in "Bewitched"), but Jackson often blends comedy with action or horror to good effect.

The finest example is Bilbo's meeting with the nasty Gollum (Andy Serkis, vividly reprising his most famous motion-capture role). They verbally fox-trot like Abbott and Costello, but Gollum bristles with the menace and psychosis of a modern-day serial killer.

"The Hobbit" ends not with a climax or a cliffhanger but more of scene-setter for the next film, which some might find frustrating.

But that's exactly what Jackson wants: the grand feel of an unfolding epic. "The Hobbit" is an impressive first chapter.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Wed Dec 12, 2012 10:19 am

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - *** 1/2

'The Hobbit': Take the journey
By Glenn Kenny, Special to MSN Movies

When the ostensibly adult film reviewer is called on to foray into the realm of what was once called "fan-boy culture" and is now, one gathers, called "nerd culture" (apparently more acceptable to fan boys or nerds, although why that might be the case is beyond me), there are all sorts of extra-cinematic factors that one seems obliged to take into account. This year has already seen two near-sacraments of nerd culture enter theaters and clean up with the box office popular vote. But the noise around these two movies, which are "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises," in case you didn't guess, had a more fraught quality than most pre-release hype. Never mind the post-release defensiveness. Given their frequent proclamations of triumphalism, nerd-culture champions are a neurotic, tetchy bunch. You can't really blame them, either, as they've staked their troth on superhero movies. Think about it.

My point is that it's very nearly impossible to enter a theater showing "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" as an innocent. The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson and adapted from a highly beloved and largely respected piece of fantasy literature by J.R.R. Tolkien, is in a sense the rock upon which nerd culture, movie division, has built its church, so this first installment in a new trilogy that takes on Tolkien's prelude to the "Rings" trilogy enters theaters with a lot of baggage. Part of this includes an intriguing production history that at one point had fantasy movie maestro Guillermo Del Toro taking over Jackson's directorial duties (didn't happen, although Del Toro does get a script credit here). And then there's the very controversial 48 fps 3-D.

What, you say? Well, um, yes, the explanation of this technology is likely quite unengaging for lay people, so, quickly: The movie was shot with digital video, using a technology that effectively doubles the frame rate of conventional film, that is, movie film in normal motion shoots and is projected at 24 frames per second. This technology doubles that speed. Now, since what constitutes a "frame" in digital technology is materially different from what constitutes a frame in film technology ... OK, don't nod off; I'll stop now. Point is, 48 fps, and particularly 48 fps in 3-D, is reputed to deliver an image of such stellar clarity that the viewer is apt to feel as if he or she can step into the action. Although why you'd want to is beyond me; man, those orcs look NASTY. In any event, this tech is meeting with mixed reviews on account of the ostensible qualitative similarity it has to high-definition video you'd see in home theater.

But let me not get ahead of things. With the weight of all this stuff weighing on the future assessor of the movie before the lights have even gone down, how does "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" finally play? I'd have to say pretty well, if you like this sort of thing.

The movie kicks off with appearances from beloved "Rings" stalwarts Ian Holm and Elijah Wood, setting up a frame story for the flashback where we're introduced to the young Bilbo Baggins, who's played by Martin Freeman of much British television fame, and is a very excellent choice to portray the homey but ultimately intrepid Hobbit. Given that my own sole experience of Tolkien involved having my copy of "The Hobbit" stolen and tossed down the hole of an outhouse before I could finish the first chapter when I was in summer camp after fifth grade, I can't really vouch for the fidelity of the adaptation. I gather that the basic plot, in which Bilbo is enlisted by Middle Earth wizard Gandalf the Grey to assist a group of dwarves in reclaiming a castle that's now the residence of a surly dragon, has been beefed up by adding a long-standing grudge between a dwarf king and a terribly fearsome albino orc.

It's been almost a decade since "The Return of the King," the final picture in the "Rings" trilogy, and I'm really not up on my Middle Earth lore. Which is frustrating for the first hour of this nearly three-hour picture, as said first hour, in which old Bilbo and Frodo talk of this and that, and young Bilbo and Gandalf and varied dwarves get acquainted, is what the director Quentin Tarantino calls a "hangout movie." Only the people hanging out are short, have hairy feet, et cetera.

Things do pick up as elves enter the picture (Cate Blanchett has the movie's only female speaking role as one of their number), plot thickens, lots of nutty action sequences unfold (the encounter in the goblin kingdom is an inspired mashup of Hieronymus Bosch and "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom"), and Bilbo meets a (relatively) young and vigorous Gollum in a sequence that's just classic. No, really, it's great.

And I liked how the 48 fps 3-D presentation looked. It's highly variable: Depending on lighting, backgrounds and other factors, it can deliver that sheen that one associates with bizarrely calibrated HD displays in big-box stores. But for most of the movie's running time, I found that it provided a pretty convincingly immersive experience, and I look forward to the technology's evolution/refinement. Which I guess also means I look forward to the next two installments of the trilogy, even if Led Zeppelin remains my preferred platform for Tolkein-mythos consumption.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby jack » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:06 pm

Another positive review from the Guardian.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – review
Peter Jackson brings brio and fun to Tolkien tale, but use of HFR technology and sheer length of opener may test non-believers.

by Peter Bradshaw

"Unexpected" is right, for a couple of reasons. Peter Jackson, the man who brought Lord Of The Rings to the big screen to eardrum-shattering acclaim 10 years ago, is now taking just the same approach to Tolkien's much slighter, slimmer children's book The Hobbit. It's getting expanded into three movie episodes of which this whoppingly long film is the opener.

So Tolkien's gentle tale is going to be a triple box-office bonanza, occupying the same amount of space as the mighty Rings epic, an effect achieved by pumping up the confrontations, opening out the backstory and amplifying the ambient details, like zooming in on a Google Middle Earth.

The second unexpected point is the look of the thing. Jackson has pioneeringly shot The Hobbit in HFR, or High Frame Rate: 48 frames a second, as opposed to the traditional 24, giving a much higher definition and smoother "movement" effect. But it looks uncomfortably like telly, albeit telly shot with impossibly high production values and in immersive 3D. Before you grow accustomed to this, it feels as if there has been a terrible mistake in the projection room and they are showing us the video location report from the DVD "making of" featurette, rather than the actual film.

There can be no doubt that Jackson has made The Hobbit with brio and fun, and Martin Freeman is just right as Bilbo Baggins: he plays it with understatement and charm. But I had the weird, residual sense that I was watching an exceptionally expensive, imaginative and starry BBC Television drama production, the sort that goes out on Christmas Day, with 10 pages of coverage in the seasonal Radio Times, and perhaps a break in the middle for the Queen's Speech.

Well, it grows on you. The HFR style has immediacy and glitter, particularly in the outdoor locations, where the New Zealand landscapes, in all their splendour, are revealed more sharply and clearly, and there is an almost documentary realism to the fable. Indoors though, it's not quite the same story.

We approach the drama via its mythic setup: the terrifying dragon Smaug appropriates the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. The older hobbit, played with maundering geniality by Ian Holm is presented to us; then it's back in time to meet our unlikely hero, the gentle Bilbo Baggins, younger but still a somewhat donnish, bookish bachelor figure like Tolkien and CS Lewis. He is contacted by the charismatic Wizard Gandalf The Grey — and it's a pleasure to see Ian McKellen back in the cloak, whiskers and pointy hat, bringing a sparkle of life and fun to the part, and stealing the scene with ruminative little smiles and eyebrow-raisings.

Under Gandalf's influence, Bilbo is forced to confront his destiny as a hobbit of action, and acquaints himself with the robust warrior class of dwarves. There's a nice performance from Ken Stott as Balin, with an outrageous big purple-ish nose, as if he's spent his time in exile drinking malt whisky. They are led by the mighty and taller warrior Thorin, played by Richard Armitage.

And so the quest begins, and the questers come across such familiar figures as Galadriel – a seraphic and almost immobile Cate Blanchett – and Saruman, played with impassive dignity and presence, of course, by Christopher Lee. But soon they must tackle the evil Orcs.

There are explosively dramatic battles, with a lot of 3D plunging from vertiginous heights. But the crux comes with Bilbo's meeting with the ineffably creepy Gollum, played in motion-capture once again by Andy Serkis. It is a terrific scene, a contest of nerves, a duel of wits, and the one moment in the film where the drama really comes alive and Freeman's (admirable) underplaying of the role works well against Serkis's animal paranoia.

There is also something quietly affecting in Gandalf's moral strategy in recruiting Bilbo: "I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I'm afraid, and he gives me courage."

And the rest of the film offers an enormous amount of fun, energy and a bold sense of purpose. But after 170 minutes I felt that I had had enough of a pretty good thing. The trilogy will test the stamina of the non-believers, and many might feel, in their secret heart of hearts, that the traditional filmic look of Lord of the Rings was better. But if anyone can make us love the new epically supercharged HFR Hobbit, it's Peter Jackson.

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:56 am

A positive review from Slant Magazine...

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ***/****

By Ed Gonzalez

PETER JACKSON'S LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY transports us to a mythic land haunted by gruesome ghoulies and gripped by seemingly endless warfare, allowing us to recognize something of ourselves, our modern-day triumphs and follies, in the remarkably staged skirmishes and the negotiations made and alliances formed leading up to them. Even disbelievers will attest to the movie franchise's breathless wonder. And today, nearly 10 years after the release of The Return of the King, there's still a sense that these pinnacles of Hollywood filmmaking, symbolism-rich action spectacles about the nature of brotherhood, could never have been as emotionally rich as they are if it weren't for advances in special effects that still feel state of the art, never employed by Jackson at the expense of his unmistakably classicist style.

Behold, now, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of an arguably gratuitous three-part cine-extravaganza adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit, or There and Back Again. The slender precursor to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy is, at heart, the story of a hobbit's coming of age, and its kid-lit quality is one that Jackson embraces, amplifying it with his dubious decision to shoot the films using 48fps digital cinematography. Because Tolkien's The Hobbit is a less foreboding work than his Lord of the Rings trilogy, the goofily lighthearted tenor and bouncy fleetness of the film isn't unexpected or unfortunate for bringing to mind, for better and for worse, Disney's Alice in Wonderland and The Adventures of the Gummi Bears.

But while Jackson has transported us to Middle Earth before, the place seems almost foreign now, presented anew through a lens that gives faces and landscapes, albeit strikingly detailed, an unmistakably televisual quality. Jackson's Shire was always a bit Lucky Charmed, though now it seems undistinguishable from the land Tinky Winky calls home, or the bucolic set used for part of the opening ceremony at this year's Olympic Games. The film's almost herky-jerky images seem as if they're always trying to catch up to themselves and the effect is jarring and unpleasant. There's no question that this is a revolutionary technology, as the stunning use of 3D and dazzling integration of live-action footage and special effects make it seem as if the sprawling action of the film is actually happening before our eyes, like live theater, though you may wonder once it's all done if this is how movies are supposed to behave.

It seems odd to begrudge a film for making the fantastically impossible seem almost possible, but Jackson's new toy camera scales back Middle Earth's grandeur, flattening it even as it presents it to us in three dimensions. Movies don't have to be escape routes from the drudgery of our ordinary lives, transporting us to wild and unlikely places across time and space so that we may forget for a spell the banalities and preoccupations of our present moment, but there's something almost counterproductive about a technology that takes the fantasy out of a fantasy. The Middle Earth of Jackson's The Hobbit is no longer a place that seems out of reach, but one that exists right outside our doors, practically a virtual reality.

And yet, I'm still glad to be here. The much maligned opening stretch of the film, a long-winded sojourn at the Shire, wherein Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tries to enlist a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a "burglar" in order to reclaim the Lonely Mountain for the Dwarves, builds nicely to a rather startling moment of emotional realization. Frazzled by what amounts to a home invasion by Gandalf and 13 dwarves, who unceremoniously take over his meticulously organized space and eat all of his food, Bilbo rejects Gandalf's offer to travel with the clan toward the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor only to feel a crippling sense of emptiness after they've gone. This image of Bilbo, caught from behind in long take, succinctly articulates the essence of Tolkien's book as a testament to the wonders of leaving one's comfort zone.

The rest of the film is essentially a series of exemplary set pieces, strung together with the same ravishing sweep and eye for coherent narrative brinkmanship that Jackson bought to his Lord of the Rings trilogy. We're teased with dangers unseen in Tolkien's The Hobbit, such as the Necromancer, though most run-ins—with trolls, goblins, and orcs—are familiar ones. A battle between monsters made from the very mountain Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarfs traverse (shades of the Wii's Xenoblade Chronicles) is a dazzling display of sound and fury, though it can't hold a candle to the immaculately sustained dread, humor, and sadness of Bilbo's encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis). Bilbo, even at his most courageous, remains a closed book by film's end, having grappled with nothing more profound than the panic of not wanting to seem inconsequential to a journey on behalf of the dwarfs. But in his heartfelt declaration that he wishes to restore for them the same sense of home he feels back at the Shire and so clearly has taken for granted, the film, still only clearing its throat, hints at a wellspring of emotional riches to come.
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:56 pm

Review: Is 'The Hobbit' Less a Movie Than Theme Park Ride? If So, It's a Fun One

by Eric Kohn

More than a decade has passed since Peter Jackson and company first ventured to Middle Earth with "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring." At this point, audiences pretty much know what to expect from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," despite the title's insistence to the contrary. That's hardly a knock on Jackson's fourth installment in the franchise, a prequel that takes place 60 years before the earlier movies' events but basically resurrects the same world of limber and furry-footed humanoids, fire-breathing dragons and deadly Orcs. Plot comes secondary to the care involved in bringing Middle Earth back to life. While Jackson hasn't delivered a hit on par with his "Lord of the Rings" movies, "The Hobbit" proves he can still do justice to the tricky blend of fantasy and action that made the earlier entries such enjoyable works of popular entertainment.

Oddly, though, this latest entry veers away from the epic narrative scope in favor of exploring the backdrop the original setting. Based on J.R.R Tolkien's initial novel, a fairly slim volume compared to the trilogy that followed, "The Hobbit" has been rather clumsily diced into a trilogy in despite lacking a story that demands it. "An Unexpected Journey" unfolds at a leisurely pace, with little taking place over the course of nearly three hours aside from a series of alternately witty and perilous encounters. Imaginative as it is, this initial piece of "The Hobbit" odyssey never makes a real case for its existence except that it keeps the franchise alive.

Beginning in the era of the earlier films -- an excuse for Elijah Wood to make a brief cameo as Frodo -- the story opens with the elderly Bilbo (Ian Holm) jotting down memories of the exploits that changed his life. For the rest of the running time, we follow the young and plucky Bilbo (Martin Freeman) in his random mission to help a group of dwarves regain their kingdom. Singled out by the characteristically enigmatic Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen on muted autopilot), Bilbo is assigned to help an army of bearded little men led by the stoic Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) travel across the land to face down the Dragon Smaug. A resistant adventurer despite Gandalf's confidence, Bilbo reacts to the news with bumbling fits of resistance. A prolonged sequence finds him baffled by the sudden arrival of dwarves at his home one night for a meeting of their battle plans, as they dominate his dining room and eventually convince him to sign a contract that binds him to their service.

Bilbo's ongoing confusion over the situation mostly plays for laughs as he scurries about his cramped home -- but it's also a means of simply letting us relish the atmosphere of Middle Earth, a place of mostly good-humored and peculiar characters who speak in Tolkien's distinctive version of Old English and reminisce (this time, with a hypnotic a cappella performance!) about past times. That's only one of several mini-episodes that take the place of real forward momentum in "An Unexpected Journey," even though everyone's constantly on the move. Other vignettes include a ghastly showdown between the dwarves and a trio of hungry trolls, grisly battles with Orcs and goblins and the onscreen return of the most pathetic creature ever brought to life by state-of-the-art technology, Gollum.

Realized once more by the versatile Andy Serkis, Gollum's brief appearance near the end of "An Unexpected Journey" sets the stage for his appearance in the earlier films, providing yet another reminder that Jackson's special-effects wizards at his New Zealand-based WETA Digital work wonders in terms of bringing eerie, otherworldly beings to life with bonafide emotional expressions. That's not only moment when WETA shines: It's easy to marvel at details littered throughout "The Hobbit" without paying much attention to the progress of the story: An ominous battle between hulking rock giants in the dead of night is gripping to behold -- and a lot more engaging than the exposition preceding it when the dwarves drop by the Elven kingdom.

There's a sense throughout "An Unexpected Journey" that Jackson has transitioned out of a conventional filmmaking role and instead become New Zealand's resident Willy Wonka, the skillful proprietor of a wondrous Hobbit factory the country can call its own. (A recent article in The New York Times documents Prime Minister John Key's eagerness to pal around with Jackson and invest more of New Zealand's resources in "Hobbit"-related tourism.) The lush green hills, often captured by a roaming virtual camera, stand out more than individual performances or various plot twists.

If you're willing to just go with it, "An Unexpected Journey" is a competent ride, but as a whole it lacks purpose, giving the impression of a television program in its later seasons still chugging along while fully aware that it has peaked. Needless to say, "Hobbit" fans will find plenty to soak in; others may get the feeling of being bludgeoned by deja vu.

The hits won't stop coming anytime soon. "An Unexpected Journey" kicks off this latest trilogy, which continues with "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug" in 2013 and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" in 2014. There are worse franchises that have dominated multiplexes in recent times -- "Twilight" wrapped up this year, and the distended "Harry Potter" series concluded in 2011 -- and "The Hobbit" contains far more imaginative sights, sounds and mythology than either. As multimillion dollar undertakings go, it's an entirely tolerable indulgence, especially when you consider that this trilogy is set to wrap up just in time for the scheduled 2015 opening of the next "Star Wars" movie. That journey hasn't even been written yet, but for the time being, at least "The Hobbit" still has some magic left in its DNA.

Criticwire grade: B
"Young men make wars and the virtues of war are the virtues of young men: courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men: mistrust and caution." -- Alec Guinness (Lawrence of Arabia)


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