The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:50 pm

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson goes back to the start. This means dwarves…

Dec 5th 2012 By Matthew Leyland

The year 2012: a good one for archers, Michael Fassbender and swearing bears. Fantasy movies, not so much.

Wrath Of The Titans was bigger, more personal and just as dull as its predecessor. John Carter wound up in the red. Mirror Mirror or Snow White & The Huntsman? Hard to say which was grimmer.

But luckily, hope is not lost for fans of lairy dwarves…

Back in his wheelhouse after tripping over The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson’s return to swords, sorcery and beards deserving of their own postcodes is fantasy how it ought to be.

True, there’s a sense that we’ve been here and back again before – especially as An Unexpected Journey follows a similar road-map to The Fellowship Of The Ring, with a motley group (13 dwarves, one wizard, one hobbit) questing across perilous lands.

But in the tussle between déjà vu and Jackson’s authoritative ability to draw you into richly conceived otherworlds, it’s the latter that emerges champ.

Besides, the Kiwi auteur does take risks. Making three films out of three books is one thing; doing the same with one relatively terse volume, something else.

In terms of key incidents, AUJ doesn’t burrow too far into Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings-predating novel. Yet it rarely feels like Jackson has had the rolling pin out, overstretching the material.

Nudging three hours, it moves at an even clip – and that’s with the plot delayed by two prologues.

The first is a dazzling shard of backstory that introduces – in blazing glimpses – one of this trilogy’s major foes; the second re-introduces Elijah Wood’s Frodo and Ian Holm’s ageing Bilbo, framing our tale as one passed down to a younger generation.

A bedtime story? Tolkien wrote a book for kids, but Jackson hasn’t made a movie for them. This trip to Middle-earth treads a pleasing middle ground between the whimsy on the page and the portent of the later books/earlier films.

It’s a delicate balance between, on the one hand, singsongs, camomile tea and cute, ailing hedgehogs; and on the other, lopped limbs, chilly hints of evils to come and wild-eyed wolf-monsters that get right up in the viewer’s grill thanks to Jackson’s 3D.

The director’s first foray into stereoscopy occasionally has a cut-out quality that can pull you out of the alt-world immersion he cultivates so successfully.

But it comes into its own with Jackson’s God’s-eye-view camera swooping over, under and through the luxurious landscapes (real and digital).

Total Film saw the film in the contentious new 48 frames per second format – yes, it takes a few scenes to adjust to and yes, it’s a bit like watching live TV.

But the pay-off is a striking smoothness and sharpness: a helter-skelter tumble into the heart of a mountain, or a breathless battle through goblin territory.

Never mind the elaborate action sequences: Jackson has his work cut out for him choreographing 15 protagonists for a spot of supper.

It was perhaps to be expected, but not all the dwarves emerge as rounded personalities on this first showing.

But still, Ken Stott makes a thoughtful Balin (the snowy-haired one), Stephen Hunter avoids getting slap-stuck as Bombur (the fat one) and there’s an Aragorn-y vibe to Richard Armitage’s Thorin, the leader of the pack who brings brooding focus to the simple but emotive theme of wanting to find a home.

For the title character, meanwhile, it’s all about getting off your arse and seeking new horizons.

Peter Jackson worked around Martin Freeman’s Sherlock schedule to nab him as Bilbo. You can see why.

Elijah Wood’s Frodo may have carried an incalculable burden but he was, frankly, a bit of a whinger. Freeman’s Bilbo likes a moan too, but the part gives the Brit licence to show off his sitcom-honed comic touch.

Not that there’s anything showy-offy about his subtlety; as The Office viewers will recall, he’s a master of the deadpan put down (“Is he a great wizard,” he asks Ian McKellen’s once-again grey Gandalf; “or is he like you?”) and makes exasperation seem understated.

He also straddles the tone’s comic/dramatic divide. Just when you worry his self-effacing performance is getting lost in the monster mash, along comes the centrepiece confrontation with Gollum (Andy Serkis, showstopping as ever), a game of riddles where Bilbo’s wit and mettle are shaded with genuine anxiety.

Freeman’s the all-too-human face of Jackson’s gargantuan vision, his performance indicating that the emotional stakes will keep pace with the ramped-up challenges ahead. “Home is now behind you,” Gandalf counsels Bilbo. “The world is ahead.” Right beside you, little man.


Charming, spectacular, technically audacious… in short, everything you expect from a Peter Jackson movie. A feeling of familiarity does take hold in places, but this is an epically entertaining first course.
"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 10:42 pm

First look: 'The Hobbit' suffers from story bloat

Article by: DAVID GERMAIN , Associated Press

Judging part one of Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" prelude "The Hobbit" is a bit like reviewing a film after seeing only the first act.

Yet here goes: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is stuffed with Hollywood's latest technology — 3-D, high-speed projection and Dolby's Atmos surround sound system. The result is some eye candy that truly dazzles and some that utterly distracts, at least in its test-run of 48 frames a second, double the projection rate that has been standard since silent-film days.

It's also overstuffed with, well, stuff. Prologues and sidestepping backstory. Long, boring councils among dwarves, wizards and elves. A shallow blood feud extrapolated from sketchy appendices to J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" to give the film a bad guy.

Remember the interminable false endings of "The Return of the King," the Academy Award-winning finale of Jackson's "Lord of the Rings"? "An Unexpected Journey" has a similar bloat throughout its nearly three hours, in which Tolkien's brisk story of intrepid little hobbit Bilbo Baggins is drawn out and diluted by dispensable trimmings better left for DVD extras.

Two more parts are coming, so we won't know how the whole story comes together until the finale arrives in summer 2014. Part one's embellishments may pay off nicely, but right now, "An Unexpected Journey" looks like the start of an unnecessary trilogy better told in one film.

Split into three books, "The Lord of the Rings" was a natural film trilogy, running nearly half a million words, five times as long as "The Hobbit."

Jackson and his wife, Fran Walsh, along with screenwriting partners Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro — who once was attached to direct "The Hobbit," with Jackson producing — have meticulously mined Tolkien references to events that never played out in any of the books (stuff the filmmakers call the "in-between bits").

With that added material, they're building a much bigger epic than Tolkien's book, the unexpected journey of homebody Bilbo (Martin Freeman, with Ian Holm reprising his "Lord of the Rings" role as older Bilbo).

Bilbo has no desire to hit the road after wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, grandly reprising his own "Rings" role) and a company of dwarves turn up to enlist him on a quest to retake a dwarf mountain kingdom from the dragon that decimated it.

Yet off he goes, encountering trolls, goblins, savage orcs and a grisly guy named Gollum (Andy Serkis, re-creating the character that pioneered motion-capture performance in "The Lord of the Rings"). Improved by a decade of visual-effects advances, Gollum solidifies his standing as one of the creepiest movie creatures ever. And as big-screen prologue moments go, Bilbo's acquisition of Gollum's precious ring of power may be second only to Darth Vader's first hissy breath at the end of George Lucas' "Star Wars" prequels.

"An Unexpected Journey" resurrects other "Rings" favorites, some who didn't appear in "The Hobbit" (Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Cate Blanchett as elf queen Galadriel, Christopher Lee as wizard Saruman) and some who did (Hugo Weaving as elf lord Elrond).

Richard Armitage debuts as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, ennobled from a fairly comical figure in Tolkien's text to a brooding warrior king in the mold of Viggo Mortensen from the "Rings" trilogy.

The filmmakers also pluck orc bruiser Azog out of Tolkien's footnotes and make him Thorin's sworn enemy. Azog's a bland antagonist, adding little more than one-dimensional bluster.

While there are plenty of orc skewerings and goblin beheadings, the action is lighter and more cartoonish than that of "The Lord of the Rings." Still, much of it is silly fun, particularly a battle along a maze of footbridges suspended throughout a goblin cave.

The potential sea change with "The Hobbit" is Jackson's 48-frame rate. Most theaters are not yet equipped for that speed, so the film largely will play at the standard 24 frames a second.

Proponents, including James Cameron, say higher frame rates provide more lifelike images, sharpen 3-D effects, and lessen or eliminate a flickering effect known as "strobing" that comes with camera motion. I saw the movie first at 24 frames a second and then at 48, and they're absolutely right that higher speeds clarify the picture. Strobing noticeable at 24 frames is gone at 48, providing a continuity that greatly improves the action sequences. And the panoramas are like Middle-earth actually come to life, as though you're standing on a hill looking down at the hobbits' Shire. If Cameron's "Avatar" was like looking through a window at a fantastical landscape, "An Unexpected Journey" at 48 frames is like removing the glass so you can step on through.

But with great clarity comes greater vision. At 48 frames, the film is more true to life, sometimes feeling so intimate it's like watching live theater. That close-up perspective also brings out the fakery of movies. Sets and props look like phony stage trappings at times, the crystal pictures bleaching away the painterly quality of traditional film.

This may be cinema's future, and the results undoubtedly will improve over time. It'll be an adjustment for audiences, though, and like the warmth of analog vinyl vs. the precision of digital music, the dreaminess of traditional film vs. the crispness of high-frame rates will be a matter of taste.

The technology may improve the story's translation to the screen. There's just not that much story to Tolkien's "Hobbit," though. Jackson is stretching a breezy 300 pages to the length of a Dickens miniseries, and those in-between bits really stick out in part one.

"I do believe the worst is behind us," Bilbo remarks as "An Unexpected Journey" ends.

From a hobbit's lips to a filmmaker's ears. Let's hope Jackson has the goods to improve on a so-so start. Otherwise, "The Hobbit" — subtitled "There and Back Again" by Tolkien — is going to feel like traveling the same road more than twice.

"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," released by the Warner Bros. banner New Line Cinema and MGM, is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. Running time: 169 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
"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 10:34 pm

The Hobbit: Slouching Toward Erebor
Getting neither there nor back again

By Scott Foundas

Welcome back to Middle-Earth. It has been nearly a decade since writer-director Peter Jackson last set foot on J.R.R. Tolkien's hallowed ground, signing off on a spectacular trilogy of films adapted from the British author's Lord of the Rings novels. There were box office billions and well-earned Oscars aplenty and then two subsequent Jackson projects—King Kong (2005) and The Lovely Bones (2009)—that suggested the filmmaker might have been stunted by his own mega-success. (With its distended Depression-era prologue and a running time nearly twice its 1933 predecessor, Kong in particular seemed as thick around the middle as its director now appeared slim.) So it was no real surprise when Jackson announced he would produce two films based on Tolkien's The Hobbit—the single 1937 volume that launched the Middle-Earth mythology—and even less surprising when Jackson pulled a Jay Leno on his own hand-picked director, Guillermo del Toro, in order to hold the reins himself. (Del Toro retains a co-screenwriting credit for his contribution.)

Of course, succession is never a tidy business, nor is that of making prequels into beloved franchises. Rest assured, Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey perpetrates no Jar Jar–size transgressions. Rather, it's reverential to a fault, with the director and his regular collaborators Fran Walsh (Jackson's wife) and Philippa Boyens hewing so closely to Tolkien's slender text that, at the end of three hours, we're barely 100 pages in, with mere sentences on the page having been inflated into entire sequences on screen. The detailed appendices Tolkien included with the final LOTR story, The Return of the King, have also been plundered for inspiration, and the result is a journey whose most unexpected element is just how little ground it covers. (Recently, it was announced that the two planned Hobbit films will now be three, with the next installments set to arrive in 2013 and 2014, respectively.)

Set some 60 years before the events depicted in LOTR, The Hobbit tells of another unassuming Shire-dweller's grand mythopoeic adventure in the company of wizards, elves, and—this time around—a merry band of 13 dwarfs. The hobbit in question is one Bilbo Baggins—uncle of Frodo—played to great effect in the LOTR films by Ian Holm and here, as a younger man, by the likable Martin Freeman (Sherlock's Afghanistan vet Watson). A fussy, pipe-smoking dandy of minimal ambition and even less curiosity, Bilbo is shaken from his life of leisure by a visit from that wise, wandering wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen). And if there is one inviolable constant in this first chapter of The Hobbit, it's McKellen's delectable mixture of world-weariness and coquettish vanity, which might be the default posture of any British acting great resigned to Hollywood's inexhaustible need for sorcerers, mutants, and Jedi masters.

Gandalf wants Bilbo to join the dwarfs on their journey to reclaim Erebor, a once-prosperous dwarf kingdom long ago decimated and claimed by the fire-breathing dragon Smaug, which now lies in wait, guarding its hoard of gold. But The Hobbit takes nearly an hour just to get out of Bilbo's hobbit hole, with much of that time devoted to a long night of drunken dwarf merriment (including not one but two musical numbers) during which you can just about feel the hair on your feet growing longer. For all their Wagnerian bombast, the LOTR films proceeded at a clip, with lots of story to tell and spirited new characters lurking around every bend. There was exuberance in the filmmaking, too, as if Jackson—who cut his teeth on some of the most outlandish, low-budget splatterfests of the 1980s and '90s—still couldn't quite believe he'd been allowed to make these movies. They were generous entertainments that you didn't have to be a Tolkien convert to enjoy—they made one out of you. The Hobbit, by contrast, feels distinctly like a members-only affair. It's self-conscious monument art, but is the monument to Tolkien or to Jackson himself?

Even once Bilbo and company take to the hobbit highway, the pacing is leisurely verging on lethargic, fitfully enlivened by meetings with colorful beasties: giant, cockney-accented trolls that resemble talking phalli; a goitered goblin king (amusingly voiced by Dame Edna him/herself, Barry Humphries); and stone giants that give new meaning to the expression "mountain men." A few welcome LOTR faces also pop up along the way, including elvish royalty Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and the magisterial Christopher Lee as the wizard Saruman, not yet corrupted by the forces of darkness. As for the baker's dozen of dwarfs, with the exception of their noble leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage), they never register as more than an amorphous, knee-high mass.

It should go without saying that all of this is executed at an exceptional level of craft, with Jackson and the real-life wizards of his Weta Workshop once more bringing Middle-Earth to life with rich detailing and seamless integrations of live action and CGI. But in the moment of Avatar, Life of Pi, and Harry Potter, such technical mastery is ever more the rule, not the exception. So Jackson has one-upped the competition by making The Hobbit the first feature film to be shot, in 3-D, at 48 frames per second. What that means, in layman's terms, is that when the cameras rolled on The Hobbit, the film (or, rather, the high-definition video) was moving at twice the speed—and hence capturing twice the information—of both traditional 35mm film production and of the "24p" HD video that is rapidly hastening film's extinction. And your reaction to this, in layman's terms, is likely to be either "Wow, cool!" or "WTF?"

Available for viewing only in select cinemas in major cities (the rest will feature a standard 24-frame presentation), this "high-frame rate" Hobbit features exceptionally sharp, plasticine images the likes of which we might never have seen on a movie screen before, but which do resemble what we see all the time on our HD television screens, whether it's Sunday Night Football, Dancing With the Stars, or a game of Grand Theft Auto. (Indeed, most TVs now have a menu setting that can, if you so desire, lend this look to everything you watch—a setting appropriately christened by some gearheads as the "soap opera effect.") Whereas video-shot "films" have labored for years to approximate the look of celluloid, Jackson goes whole hog in the opposite direction, the idea being that this acute video quality comes closer to the way the human eye perceives reality. Fair enough, but the reality Jackson conjures isn't quite the one he intends: Instead of feeling like we've been transported to Middle-Earth, it's as if we've dropped in on Jackson's New Zealand set, trapped in an endless "making of" documentary, waiting for the real movie to start.

For the record, I returned to see The Hobbit a second time, at 24 frames, and found it more aesthetically pleasing but no more dramatically engaging. At any speed, the movie only springs to full life late in the day, during the first meeting of Bilbo and the tragic creature who will come to be known as Gollum (once again played by the sublime Andy Serkis), a hobbit reduced to a quivering, schizophrenic mass by his fidelity to a certain gold ring. Suddenly, in one long scene consisting of nothing more than two characters trying to outwit each other in a game of riddles, Jackson the storyteller seems to overtake Jackson the technocrat. The old magic returns, and for a fleeting moment, The Hobbit feels truly necessary, a triumph of art over commerce.
"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 10:30 pm

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

December 4, 2012 By Kirk Honeycutt

So back to Middle-earth it is in the company of Peter Jackson and his wizardly cohorts from “The Lord of the Rings” sagas. And thank the gods of Middle-earth that after all the legal wrangling Jackson did emerge as the new journey’s leader.

It would be hard to imagine any other captain. The sole exception would be Guillermo Del Toro, whose name remains in the screenplay credits along with Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Jackson.

As written by master fable-maker J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” takes place 60 years earlier than the tale told in “LOTR.” But on film it feels like 60 years later.

Shooting in 3D at 48 frames per second for release in what Warner Bros. calls High Frame Rate 3D, as well as other formats (including Imax which sounds forbidding), Jackson and his team achieve a sparkling cinematic quality much better than the earlier movie series.

Whether in the sunny land of the Hobbit’s beloved Shire or the dark places of Goblin tunnels and dense forests, the scenes have a crispness that allows you to see the tiniest details. The 3D only adds to the other-worldliness of these magical places.

Then too the story feels not so dark and militaristic as “LOTR,” not so Wagnerian, in other words. For sure there are pitched battles between Dwarves and deformed Orcs or hideous Goblins. But at least for the first film of this projected trilogy, Jackson emphases fun and comedy.

Wild slides into caves, pell-mell chases, absurd cliffhangers and other such “thrill-rides” in 3D give the film its playfulness. And the title character of the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) has such childlike wonder in his face that even when sinister threats arise —and they often do — these incarnations of evil fail to dampen the film’s boisterous spirit.

There may be a problem with the many producers and companies —along with Jackson’s wiling agreement, of course, — trying to extend a novel into three movies. Some padding and annoying byplay tax the film but fans probably won’t much mind.

Bilbo Baggins sets the tale down on paper many years later — Ian Holm returns as Old Bilbo — presumably to be read by Frodo (Elijah Wood, again one of many role reprisals from the previous series).

Since the loss of their Kingdom of Erebot to the terrifying Dragon Smaug, the Dwarves and their handsome leader, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), have been reduced to a wandering tribe.

Bilbo relates that one day he is approached by the Wizard Gandalf the Grey (again Ian McKellen) to join him, Thorin and a ragtag company of 13 Dwarves to reclaim what is rightfully theirs.

This is all done in a lengthy comic sequence of “drop-ins” at his comfortable Hobbit Hole where the Dwarves consume all that is in his pantry. The sequence goes on a tad too long and even includes a musical number.

It’s never entirely clear why Gandalf feels the quest needs a Hobbit. (Bilbo will be their burglar despite no demonstrable abilities in that direction.) Nor why Bilbo ultimately accepts the offer other than for the adventure.

Such is the nature of this quest, however, that this feels like reason enough. Then, seemingly, the company is stalked the moment it sets foot outside the Shire.

The treacherous lands traveled through host increasingly menacing and wretched creatures — Goblins, Orcs, Wargs and a curiously fascinating confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) beside an underground lake where the duel takes place with wits rather than weapons.

The totality of the movie-magic here from CGI and motion-capture characters voiced and embodied vigorously by actors to the work of hundreds of costume, makeup, hair and prosthetic artists creates a Middle-earth superior to the triumph that was “LOTR.”

New Zealand’s varied landscapes contribute. There is something so inherently wild and unsettling about these that you are never surprised by the complicated and malevolent creatures that pop up.

Jackson and cinematographer Andrew Lesnie blend all the effects into a whole that is pure fantasy yet realistically so. Even with 3D glasses on, which necessarily darkens the image, the dusks are glorious and the dawns magical.

“LOTR” composer Howard Shore contributes another score that is big and bold yet never trumps the action. Rather his fulsome symphonic sound quickens the pulse and steadies the nerves.

To carp, the cliffhangers often feel forced. Granted if Bilbo is relating this tale years later, his survival is a given. And if two more films are to follow, the Dwarves will come through at least the first film relatively unharmed.

Yet Jackson puts them at death’s door so frequently with last-minute rescues beyond miraculous — a term that takes on a qualified meaning in such fantastic environments — that the heroes never seem in any real danger even as an ax is about to come down or a ferocious creature about to close its jaws.

One sequence where treacherous mountains come alive to do battle as poor, tiny Dwarves cling to their dark, craggy shapes feels extraneous, belonging almost to a different movie and unrelated to the quest.

Personal appearances by characters from previous films such as Christopher Lee’s Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett’s ethereally beautiful Galadriel are perhaps a tad self-congratulatory as well.

On the other hand, this confab of wizards does give the film a needed gravity and purpose and helps fill in many narrative blanks for viewers.

If missteps these be, they are minor ones. It’s always difficult to question things in a film when more is to come. What may seem extraneous may prove vital by the third film.

Let’s put it this way: The previous film series never made me want to read Tolkien; the new one does. The mythology comes alive more, for me at least, and the characters feel more down to (Middle-)earth.
Opens: December 14, 2011 (Warner Bros.)
Production companies: New Line Cinema and MGM Pictures present a Wingnut Films production
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Ian Hom Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Andy Serkis
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenwriters: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro
Based on the novel by: J.R.R. Tolkien
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson
Executive producers: Alan Horn, Toby Emmerich, Ken Kamins, Carolyn Blackwood
Director of photography: Andrew Lesnie
Production designer: Dan Hennah
Music: Howard Shore
Costume designers: Ann Taylor, Richard Taylor, Bob Buck
Editor: Jabez Olssen
No rating, 169 minutes
"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 10:28 pm

A pan from TIME magazine...

The Hobbit: Why Go There and Back Again?
By Richard Corliss

Nine years ago, Peter Jackson completed his film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings fantasy novels, to cheers that circled the globe — plus 17 Oscars and $2.9 billion at the worldwide box office. Now, like Sam Gamgee at the conclusion of that gigantic achievement, Jackson says, “Well, I’m back.”

Back again and back in time, to The Hobbit, the 1937 book in which Tolkien introduced Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey and the splendor and travails of Middle Earth. Having made three three-hour movies of the 1,359-page trilogy (not including appendices), Jackson has brought the same capacious vision and maniacal attention to detail — and perhaps, eventually, the same lavish running time — to a three-film version of Tolkien’s earlier, 287-page story.

(FIND: The Lord of the Rings trilogy on the all-TIME 100 Movies list)

You could read The Hobbit aloud in less time than the three movies may take, after The Desolation of Smaug is released next December and the final installment, There and Back Again, a year after that. It’s another matter whether a parent with a flair for the dramatic could carve images in a child’s mind as vivid as the goblins and trolls and orcs — and Smaug the dragon — that come to plausible life in this first episode, called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

And if children have seen the Rings cycle, they’ll want to revisit the actors, now older, returning to play younger versions of their characters: Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Ian Holm as the elderly Bilbo, Andy Serkis as the treacherous, piteous Gollum, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett as the Elf royals Elrond and Galadriel, Christopher Lee as Saruman the White Wizard and, briefly, Elijah Wood as Bilbo’s nephew Frodo, whose honor and burden in the Rings films was to carry the One Ring to Mount Doom.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Fellowship of the Ring)

By stretching a medium-length prequel into three long movies, Jackson is almost begging for his Hobbit to be compared to another movie trilogy: episodes 1 through 3 of Star Wars, which both expanded and diminished the achievement of the 1977-83 films. So, you ask, is An Unexpected Journey better than The Phantom Menace? Easily, yes — it would take a real effort to make it worse — though the appearance of the wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), a flight Dr. Dolittle, has stirred the unhappy memory of Jar Jar Binks in some early viewers. Does the new movie boast spectacular visual effects? Undoubtedly. Does Jackson’s shooting at 48 frames per second instead of the standard 24 impose a unique clarity on The Hobbit? Absolutely, and at times almost blindingly so.

But the movie lacks majesty. Grand in parts, the movie is too often grandiose or grandiloquent; and the running time is indefensible. It’s like the three-hour first cut, assembled by editors, of even the most modest films — before the director says, “OK, now let’s make a movie out of this.” This Hobbit plays like the rough cut, with no deleted scenes left for the DVD.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Two Towers)

This scrupulous rendering of the story reminds reader-viewers that it involves quite a bit of trudging through hostile terrain, and throws this Fellowship into a series of scrapes before the party is rescued by Gandalf, who at this stage of his 7,000-year life was a bit stingy and capricious in his use of magic spells. And so faithful to the book is the movie that Middle Earth geeks will be flummoxed by the few changes (replacing Tolkien’s songs for the elves and goblins with other airs) and deletions (of, for example, Biblo’s dismissive line to Gandalf — “But please come to tea… Come tomorrow! Good bye!” — that sets the whole quest in motion).

In any adaptation of a beloved book, there’s a fine line between fidelity and fealty, care and obsession. Jackson originally assigned Guillermo Del Toro, the Mexican master of Pan’s Labyrinth and the Hellboy films, to direct The Hobbit films (then planned as just two feature-length parts). Then Jackson took over; he wanted The Hobbit for himself, as he had possessed The Rings. In this backstage story, there’s a touch of the sad, covetous Gollum, who had kept the Ring for ages, and been corrupted by its possession, before losing it to Bilbo and then Frodo.

(READ: Corliss’s review of The Return of the King)

Not that Jackson is Gollum — he’s a more likely Gandalf — or that the movie should be called The Hoard of the Rings. But the director’s nearly two-decade involvement with filming the Tolkien books seems to have stoked a belief that he should put virtually every scene of The Hobbit on the screen. Once or twice he inflates a few sentences, like the thunder battle, into huge FX production numbers. In editing a film, a director has to kill some of his darling scenes, for the duty and glory of entertaining a hundred million children and adults. Watching this plus-size Hobbit, viewers have to do their own editing: savoring the strong scenes, napping through the weak ones.

Oh, Jackson might sarcastically reply, and I suppose you’d want the 13 dwarves in Tolkien’s story pared down to seven, because that number was plenty for Walt Disney (in the Snow White animated feature that opened exactly three months after The Hobbit was published). The answer would have to be yes, at least on the evidence of the first film; the dwarves get a great deal of time without more than two or three registering as distinct personalities.

(READ: The controversy over animals that died during the making of The Hobbit)

Chief among these is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), a more glowering and ambivalent simulacrum of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn in the Rings movies. Thorin leads the quest to return to and regain his people’s kingdom inside the Lonely Mountain, where the dwarves were routed and his father and grandfather killed by Smaug. (“Dragon?” one dwarf says to Bilbo. “Think furnace with wings.”)

In this mission — merely a field trip compared with the earth-saving pilgrimage undertaken by the Fellowship of the Ring — Thorin enlists Gandalf, who brings along young Bilbo (Martin Freeman), whom he advertises to the dwarves as a preeminent burglar. Bilbo has not that skill, nor the taste for mortal adventure the journey entails. But eventually, or just before Christmas 2014, moviegoers will discover that the complacent Hobbit has reserves of heroism.

(READ: A Google map to Tolkien’s Mordor?)

The flashback that begins the film, of the dwarves’ defeat by Smaug, is brilliantly choreographed — the movement of both action and camera — as is a climactic confrontation with the goblins. In the intervening few hours, though, things can get pokey and silly. A good time to end a scene is when the slowest viewer says, “I get it”; but Jackson, so determined to deploy all his CGI resources, often can’t let go. He leans heavily, as Tolkien did, on ethnic stereotyping: the dwarves are more or less Scottish (hard-working and greedy), the trolls Cockney (comically loutish), the blond, refined Elves super-Scandivanian. Stately and twee, the Elves inhabit a kind of Middle Earth Renaissance Faire. The reunion there of McKellen, Lee, Weaving and Blanchett is not epochal but perfunctory, a tepid attempt to convene some of the star personalities of The Rings.

The Hobbit‘s most startling innovation — shooting at 48fps — is also the most challenging. Filmgoers have been trained for almost a century to watch movies at 24fps. Doubling the rate keeps the image from blurring when the camera moves, which is ideal for Jackson’s action sequences but disorienting in the more static interior scenes, where the scenery upstages the characters. The clarity of the image is sometimes magical, occasionally migraine-inducing. (Mike Ryan of The Huffington Post wrote that “the picture is so clear that in one scene I could see Ian McKellen’s contact lenses.”) At first, in the Smaug battle, I thought I was watching a video game: pellucid pictures of indistinct creatures. After a while my eyes adjusted, as to a new pair of glasses, but it’s still like watching a very expensively mounted live TV show on the world’s largest home-TV screen.

(READ: Paul Gray’s review of the 1978 Lord of the Rings film)

What’s curious is that, in this cathedral of high tech, the most telling moments are scenes of intimacy, like Galadriel’s solemn, seductive promise to Gandalf that, “If you should need my help, I will come” — one of the movie’s few pulses of adult connection. As Bilbo, Freeman provides the anchor of humanity: ordinary and troubled, and not impervious to the Ring’s corrosive power, but with a good nature capable of rising to greatness. The British actor is known for playing Tim Canterbury on the original run of The Office, as well as Dr. Watson in the BBC series Sherlock. (Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Holmes, supplies the voice of Smaug in the Hobbit trilogy.)

You wait two hours for the meeting of Bilbo and Gollum, and it’s satisfies all expectations. We know from The Lord of the Rings that this emaciated figure of doomed dementia was once the Hobbit Sméagol. After a half-millennium in subterranean solitary confinement under the Ring’s influence, he is a sibilant wraith, arguing with himself as Norman Bates did with his late mother. Like Frodo’s encounters with Gollum, Bilbo’s game-playing reveals the pathetic future of any Hobbit who holds the Ring.

(READ: Corliss’s review of the Lord of the Rings stage musical)

Serkis, aided by Jackson’s CGI gurus, revives the old sick poignancy in a creature who is more haunted than malevolent (and he is very malevolent). In an adventure, villains usually get the best roles; add a touch of madness and the result can be magnificent maleficence. Serkis soars as Sméagol sinks, and if the next two Hobbit films hold hope, it is that this Peter Lorre-esque skulker will get more chances to work his evil magic. Given the fitful inspirations and frustrating longueurs of this middling Middle Earth fable, one wishes that Tolkien had written a darker companion volume called The Gollum. Now that would be worth a trilogy.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Fri Dec 07, 2012 10:25 pm

A more positive review from Variety...

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
By Peter Debruge

Fulfilling just a fraction of J.R.R. Tolkien's "There and Back Again" subtitle, "The Hobbit" alternately rewards and abuses auds' appetite for all things Middle-earth. While Peter Jackson's prequel to "The Lord of the Rings" delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling -- colorful characters on an epic quest amid stunning New Zealand scenery -- it doesn't offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of this overlong first installment, dubbed "An Unexpected Journey." The primary advance here is technical, as Jackson shoots in high-frame-rate 3D, an innovation that improves motion at the expense of visual elegance.

Though international B.O. success seems all but assured for a franchise that has already commanded nearly $3 billion in worldwide grosses, splitting the source material into multiple pics here mimics a frustrating trend among lucrative fantasy adaptations, from the two final "Harry Potter" films to the bifurcated "Twilight Saga" finale, stringing fans along with incomplete narratives. Whereas "The Lord of the Rings" naturally divided into the three books, "The Hobbit" contains scarcely enough story to support a single feature, as those who recall Rankin/Bass' 1977 animated made-for-TV version know all too well.

Tolkien's delightful yet easier-going novel, written with young readers in mind, recounts the relatively simple tale of how Bilbo Baggins ("The Office's" Martin Freeman, affable as ever) traveled with dwarves to face the dragon Smaug and, in so doing, came to acquire the fabled ring.

A mythologically dense, CG-heavy prologue details how Smaug raided the dwarf stronghold of Erebor, taking possession of the Arkenstone, a glowing gem of ambiguous power. Conjured by Jackson and returning co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (credited along with Guillermo del Toro, who at one point planned to direct) for the sake of spectacle, this unnecessary pre-title sequence recalls setpieces from the second and third "Lord of the Rings" movies, as if to assure fans they can expect more of the same -- and sure enough, "The Hobbit" offers familiar run-ins with orcs, trolls, goblins and even Gollum before interrupting the adventure halfway to its destination, the Lonely Mountain, to make room for the next installment.

But Bilbo's "unexpected journey" is awfully slow to start. The film first locates him in Bag End, the cozy home in the Shire where the eleventy-one-year-old halfling hero (played briefly by Ian Holm and accompanied by Elijah Wood's Frodo) narrates the adventure that first brought Hobbits into the affairs of Middle-earth's more bellicose species. That tale begins six decades earlier, when the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) appears with a challenge for the younger Bilbo (Freeman), leaving a magic sign that brings a swarm of dwarves to the reluctant hero's door.

With names like Balin and Dwalin (Ken Stott and Graham McTavish), Oin and Gloin (John Callen and Peter Hambleton) and Fili and Kili (Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner), the 13 dwarves are virtually indistinguishable apart from their facial hair -- though one needn't be Galadriel (Cate Blanchett's future-seeing Elf queen) to recognize O'Gorman as a Kiwi heartthrob in the offing. In the absence of clearly defined characteristics, the unwieldy lot make Snow White's companions seem downright three-dimensional.

Speaking of 3D, the technique adds a level of dynamism to Andrew Lesnie's swooping camerawork, which once again cuts from the closest of closeups to the widest of wide shots, in addition to plunging down and around elaborate enemy encampments, such as the underground Goblin-town, where spindly rope bridges teeter over gaping chasms. But 3D also complicates the forced-perspective tricks Jackson used in the earlier films, making for odd, eye-boggling moments, especially in the crowded Bag End scene, where Gandalf somewhat unconvincingly towers among characters half his size.

More disconcerting is the introduction of the film's 48-frames-per-second digital cinematography, which solves the inherent stuttering effect of celluloid that occurs whenever a camera pans or horizontal movement crosses the frame -- but at too great a cost. Consequently, everything takes on an overblown, artificial quality in which the phoniness of the sets and costumes becomes obvious, while well-lit areas bleed into their surroundings, like watching a high-end homemovie. (A standard 24fps projection seems to correct this effect in the alternate version of the film being offered to some theaters, but sacrifices the smoother motion seen in action scenes and flyover landscape shots.)

After Bilbo finally accepts his calling 40 minutes into the picture, such technical distractions virtually disappear as Jackson draws auds into his familiar world, particularly the troll-infested forest of Mirkwood and the film's darker, more expressionistic realms. Recognizing the limitations of their source material, Jackson and his co-writers pilfer freely from Tolkien's other writings, including appendices to "Lord of the Rings" that reveal such details as where Gandalf goes during his long disappearances.

With few exceptions, these insights bog down a tale already overtaxed by a surfeit of characters. The film introduces Radagast (Sylvester McCoy), a comical brown wizard with an ordure-streaked beard, and an unsatisfying subplot involving a Necromancer that's clearly an early form of Sauron, out of place in this story. It also makes room for cumbersome reunions -- or "preunions," perhaps -- with Galadriel, Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) in the elf city of Rivendell, hinting at the greater roles they will play in "The Lord of the Rings."

The pic stands on firmer footing when embellishing the book's more cinematic sequences into full-blown setpieces, such as a perilous cliffside passage complicated by the fact the mountains themselves appear to be doing battle, like giant stone Transformers. An expanded subplot pitting dwarf captain Thorin (Richard Armitage, nobly trying to match Viggo Mortensen's smolder) against a battle-scarred and vengeance-bent orc helps disguise the fact that this particular road trip has no immediate villain.

Still, Jackson and his team seem compelled to flesh out the world of their earlier trilogy in scenes that would be better left to extended-edition DVDs (or omitted entirely), all but failing to set up a compelling reason for fans to return for the second installment. The film hints at a looming run-in with Smaug, but makes clear that this mission serves more to win back the dwarves' lost kingdom than to protect the fate of Middle-earth. Bilbo's arc, therefore, consists of proving his value to a mission that doesn't concern him personally.

In keeping with the child-friendly tone of the source book, "The Hobbit" is more comical, features a couple of amusing songs, and doesn't dally on funerals the way "The Lord of the Rings" did. But it's no kinder on small bladders or impressionable eyes, running every bit as long and violent as Jackson's initial trilogy.

While it would have been fascinating to see del Toro's take on "The Hobbit," there's something to be said for continuity. Few film series have achieved the consistency of look and feel maintained across these Middle-earth-set stories, and once the adventure gets going, Jackson reminds auds of his expertise at managing action on a scale that would have made David Lean wish he'd had CGI in his toolbox.

That connection is clearest in the character of Gollum, once again performed by Andy Serkis, who loses not only an unmistakably schizophrenic game of riddles to Bilbo, but also his precious ring. Below-the-line contributions, including those of composer Howard Shore and the entire production and costume design teams, support the illusion that we never left Middle-earth.

Camera (color, widescreen, HD, 48fps, 3D), Andrew Lesnie; editor, Jabez Olssen; music, Howard Shore; production designer, Dan Hennah; supervising art director, Simon Bright; art directors, Andy McLaren, Brad Mill, Brian Massey; set decorators, RA Vincent, Bright; costume designers, Ann Maskrey, Richard Taylor, Bob Buck; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat/SDDS/PRP), Tony Johnson; sound designers, David Farmer, Dave Whitehead; supervising sound editors, Brent Burge, Chris Ward; re-recording mixers, Christopher Boyes, Michael Hedges; stunt coordinator, Glenn Boswell; armor, weapons, creatures and special makeup, Taylor/Weta Workshop; senior visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri; visual effects supervisor, Eric Saindon; visual effects and animation, Weta Digital; animation supervisor, David Clayton; special effects supervisor, Steve Ingram; assistant director, Carolynne Cunningham; second unit director, Andy Serkis; second unit camera, Richard Bluck; casting, Amy Hubbard, John Hubbard, Victoria Burrows, Scot Boland, Liz Mullane, Ann Robinson. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, Calif., Nov. 30, 2012. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 169 MIN.
"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 Mister Tee » Tue Dec 04, 2012 2:08 pm

One Internet wiseass says he thought he caught a glimpse of the book's copyright page.

Bloat has been a Jackson problem since Return of the King. King Kong was an hour longer than it should have been. The fanboys will always turn up and be thrilled -- like Cubs' fans always turning out no matter how crappy the team -- but unless he re-learns economy, Jackson's going to lose alot of critics and fans who otherwise wish him well.

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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby Sonic Youth » Tue Dec 04, 2012 12:51 am

This is what I was afraid of.... sprawl.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Review
by Todd McCarthy
Hollywood Reporter

There has almost certainly never been an adaptation of a novel more studiously, scrupulously and strenuously faithful as Peter Jackson's film of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Spending nearly three hours of screen time to visually represent every comma, period and semicolon in the first six chapters of the perennially popular 19-chapter book, Jackson and his colleagues have created a purist's delight, something the millions of die-hard fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy will gorge upon. In pure movie terms, however, it's also a bit of a slog, with an inordinate amount of exposition and lack of strong forward movement. But based on its maker, source and gigantic promotional campaign, this first section to the long-awaited prequel to Rings will no doubt mine equivalent amounts of box-office gold, as will its follow-ups next year and the year after that.

If The Hobbit had been filmed shortly after the book's publication in 1937 (it's a wonder that it wasn't), one could easily imagine a lively affair full of great character actors and cleverly goofy special effects that would have moved the story along in smart style in under two hours. In Jackson's academically fastidious telling, however, it's as if The Wizard of Oz had taken nearly an hour just to get out of Kansas. There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going. This may be one venture where, rather than DVDs offering an “Expanded Director's Version,” there might be an appetite for a “Condensed Director's Cut” in a single normal-length film.

Jackson announced his interest in filming The Hobbit as early as 1995, prior to the Rings, but was prevented from moving ahead by knotty rights issues. Once the venture came to life again, there were even more hassles involving ownership, lawsuits, studios coming and going and the initial involvement as director of Guillermo del Toro, who eventually stepped aside but retains co-screenplay credit along with Jackson and the latter's Rings partners Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. At first proposed as a two-part saga, it then became three, following the lead of the Harry Potter and Twilight series to split stories into the maximum number of installments to fill fans' cravings and the financial coffers.

Then there is the technical innovation of Jackson's decision to film not only in 3D but in 48 frames per second, double the standard number. The results are interesting and will be much-debated, but an initial comparison of the two formats weighs against the experiment; the print shown at Warner Bros. in what is being called High Frame Rate 3D, while striking in some of the big spectacle scenes, predominantly looked like ultra-vivid television video, paradoxically lending the film a oddly theatrical look, especially in the cramped interior scenes in Bilbo Baggins' home. For its part, the 24 fps 3D version had a softer, noticeably more textured image quality.

One of the reasons this “unexpected journey” to “a land far away” is so bulked up is that Jackson has filled it out with an enormous amount of back story relevant to the characters at hand. In doing so, he is able to provide a titanic opening battle sequence, one in which a wealthy ancient kingdom of dwarves alongside the Lonely Mountain is decimated by fearsome giant trolls. One of the only survivors is the heir to the throne, Thorin, whose effort to reclaim the kingdom will occupy the thrust of the story.

First, however, there is the hokey business of introducing the motley crew of knights who will undertake this daunting task, 13 dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), whose facial hair looks more imposing than their musculature and are guided by the towering wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, back for another tour of Middle-earth), who approaches the mild-mannered Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to propose that he “share in an adventure,” the nature of which is unfamiliar to the pointy-eared stay-at-home.

The gaggle of uninvited guests make themselves right at home in Bilbo's cozy underground abode, making short work of his food and drink and in every way behaving presumptuously. A little of their dwarf talk goes a long way and a filmmaker intent in getting his show on the road would have dispensed with this repast in half the time or less; it's not as if there's going to be quiz on the identities of each dwarf before the journey can proceed. Some of Jackson's blocking, setups and compositions in this long introduction are downright clumsy, in the service of notably lame japes and gags.

More back story battle footage spikes things up again as the long journey begins in earnest. An initial glimpse of what the little guys are up against comes in the form of three giant trolls, who make off with a couple of ponies to eat and indulge in a Cockney-flavored Three Stooges routine as they prepare to roast the dwarves for a snack. There is also a glimpse of the dreaded Necromancer, who looks not unlike the video sensation Slenderman.

At length, the sojourners arrive at Rivendell, home of Gandalf's friend Elf Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and, in cameos, Queen Galadriel (a returning Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). If the cave full of gold guarded by the dragon Smaug is to be penetrated, Gandalf and the dwarves need both the best maps and a key, with which they get help at this stop.

But the way ahead becomes increasingly treacherous, what with mountains that abruptly come alive as heaps of rock that battle one another in heaving slow motion; the malignant Gollum (the again superb Andy Serkis, in eye-bulging Peter Lorre mode), who engages Bilbo in a winner-take-all riddle contest and, quite scarily, repulsive trolls who give chase on ferocious, wolf-like wargs and corner the dwarves in a forest at the edge of a cliff in an undeniably exciting, action-packed climax.

It takes Jackson a long time to build up a head of steam, but he delivers the goods in this final stretch, which is paralleled by the hitherto ineffectual Bilbo beginning to come into his own as a character. One of Tolkien's shrewdest strategies in writing The Hobbit and designing it to appeal to both youngsters and adults over the decades was making Bilbo a childlike grown-up who matures and assumes responsibilities he initially perceives are beyond him. Freeman, who at first seems bland in the role, similarly grows into the part, giving hope that the character will continue to blossom in the two forthcoming installments.

The dwarves are pretty interchangeable, but Armitage has a strong bearing as the royal heir and doesn't stress the character's self-important pomposity too much. There's nothing McKellen can do to surprise anymore as the ever-imposing Gandalf, but his presence is as reassuring to the audience as it is necessary for the dwarf warriors.

In terms of production values, The Hobbit is comparable to what Jackson and his team accomplished on the Rings outings; he has reunited with such key trilogy collaborators as cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, production designer Dan Hennah (supervising art director and set decorator on the Rings) and masses of effects artists and technicians from his Weta shop. Due to technological advances and the 3D technology, in some ways the new film moves beyond into new territory, and there will assuredly be more spectacle in the next two installments, which will be subtitled The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again (the subtitle of Tolkien's entire novel).

The score by Howard Shore, who wrote the music for the trilogy, effectively backs the action, nearly every second of it.

The end credits run 16 minutes, certainly a record or close to it, bringing the total running time to six minutes short of three hours.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Mon Dec 03, 2012 2:42 am

Apparently the embargo is going to be lifted today instead of the 5th. I recently heard that the film screened for critics in NY and LA, and it was extremely enthusiastically received. It currently holds a 90/100 score with the BFCA.

UPDATE: The embargo is going to be lifted tonight at 9:00 pm ET.
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Re: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby jack » Sat Dec 01, 2012 7:03 pm

We'll have the real reviews after the 5th when the embargo is lifted. From what I've read Sacks was sent to New Zealand not to review the film but blog or tweet about it. However the initial reaction is very positive.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reviews

Postby MovieWes » Sat Dec 01, 2012 6:08 pm

'The Hobbit' premiere: Peter Jackson's fantasy epic is eye-popping
New technology and director's skill make this 'Lord of the Rings' prequel one for the ages


There’s only one real wizard in Middle Earth - and it’s director Peter Jackson.

The auteur from Down Under unveiled “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” - the first installment of his prequel trilogy to his “Lord of the Rings” series - in his native New Zealand Wednesday.

Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 children’s tale which set the stage for the author’s much darker and heavier later books, Jackson’s “The Hobbit” harkens back to a more innocent time when men were men and gold-hoarding dragons were the biggest evils plaguing the land.

Martin Freeman stars as the titular reluctant hero, who’s tricked by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) into accompanying 13 dwarves — led by Thorin (a square-jawed Richard Armitage) — on a quest to reclaim their ancient homeland from the worst of those dragons.

The movie offers technological wizardry, thanks to a 48 frames-per-second format, twice the industry standard. Critics who saw a trailer earlier this year were unimpressed, but after a minute or two of adjusting, the higher resolution is eye-popping, similar to discovering HD television for the first time.

Alas, the higher resolution has one downside: it really makes you wince when you see the obscenely corpulent Goblin King in such crystal clarity.

Lighter and funnier than its “Lord of the Rings” predecessors, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” remains faithful to the fantasy world last seen in the 2003 Academy Award-winning “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

The connections abound through the two-hour-forty-minute epic, including important cameos from Andy Serkis’ Gollum and Elijah Wood’s Frodo.

The result runs rings around most special-effects driven blockbusters.
"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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