Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Jeffrey Thomas, Michael Mizrahi, Lee Pace, Manu Bennett, Conan Stevens, John Rawls, Stephen Ure, Timothy Bartlett, Bret McKenzie, Kiran Shah, Benedict Cumberbatch, Glenn Boswell, Thomas Robins
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, based on a novel by J.R.R. Tolkien
Directed by: Peter Jackson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images
Running Time: 169
Date: 27/11/2012
IMDB

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Hobbit Forming

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Over a decade ago, Peter Jackson turned J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings into a filmed trilogy running slightly over nine hours, and then nearly 12 hours in "extended editions" on home video. That made sense for a literary epic that spanned 1200 pages. But when Jackson announced that the prequel, "The Hobbit" -- which is only 320 pages -- would likewise become a three-part, nine-hour epic, it began to sound less like storytelling and more like marketing.

Moreover, in addition to the obligatory 3D, the new movie is the first in history to be shot at 48 frames per second, instead of the traditional 24 frames used since the days of silent cinema. How does it look? It looks a little too real, like a high-tech version of VHS videotape footage. It doesn't look like film, and it doesn't feel like fantasy. Movements feel awkward, and the lines around visual effects sometimes stand out. Viewers could get used to it, but hopefully won't have to. (The movie will also be shown in a 24-frame version.)

Happily, after all this nonsense, the first part of the tale, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is an altogether exciting, tantalizing, and satisfying experience.

It begins as Gandalf (Ian McKellen) recruits the fastidious homebody Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) for a journey, the goal of which will eventually be to slay the dragon Smaug. They are accompanied by a band of dwarves, who, before departing, stage an impromptu feast and eat Bilbo out of house and home.

This first movie includes Bilbo's encounter with the creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), and his obtaining of the ring that will eventually cause so much trouble. Many other familiar faces from The Lord of the Rings turn up in small roles: Frodo (Elijah Wood) in a prologue, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) at Rivendell, and even Saruman (Christopher Lee).

Yet Jackson's filmmaking chops are vastly improved from The Fellowship of the Ring 11 years ago; his action is smoother, the suspense sharper, and the storytelling brisker. For example, Freeman brings some welcome notes of humor, and dwarves in secondary roles slowly reveal tiny moments of personality and begin to differentiate themselves from the crowd.

Indeed, very little of the 169 minutes on display here feels like needless filler or fat. Though it may smack of salesmanship going in, The Hobbit happily delivers the real thing. The adventure has now begun.