Saturday, December 22, 2012

[Geek] Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

Wow, look at that; it's been five months since my last post, and of course, what's better to get this blog moving again than with a bit of review of one of the most anticipated films of the year? :)

I've been having a countdown for the first installment of The Hobbit films for quite some time, what with me and a bunch of others waiting for such a thing to happen for TEN years! I do recall the very last time a group of Tolkien/The Lord of the Rings enthusiasts watched The Return of the King together in theaters in 2003; most of us were in tears, for when shall we re-visit Middle-earth again, until The Hobbit would be made into a film?

Despite the long road of issues (like the film rights, among many others) The Hobbit had to endure in order for filming to begin, fans all over the world were gifted with not only one but THREE films (and I'll let you know my reaction to this afterwards). However, I believe some good kind of sorcery is about. :P

Now, on to the review:

One of the earliest teaser posters released in 2011

From the time the teaser trailer was released, I've been following Peter Jackson's Production Video-Blogs as he went through the process of bringing the book to the big screen: from cast rehearsals on set, to on-location scouting, and so on and so forth; all that just built up the excitement for the film as it opened by the end of the year.

I think ten years just did it, for as soon as the opening scenes rolled, I felt tingles down my spine, and I most definitely had a moment then and there when I thought I'd just explode from happiness. The viewer is at once greeted with Howard Shore's familiar tunes from Lord of the Rings, transporting them immediately to Middle-earth, and off into an adventure.

One of the official posters, starring Mr. Bilbo Baggins and his yet unnamed letter opener xD

The adventure begins when Bilbo Baggins, a respectable hobbit of the Shire, gets prodded out of the comfort of his hobbit-hole when Gandalf the Grey, a wandering wizard known for his fireworks among the hobbit-folk, recruits Bilbo into the company of thirteen dwarves (he was their fourteenth companion, thus making them a "lucky number;" he was also their official burglar--as hobbits are light and quick on their feet) in a quest to retrieve their long-lost gold and the kingdom of Erebor from the clutches of Smaug the dragon.

How Peter Jackson managed to cram in all thirteen dwarves--I'm sure it was no simple feat! In fact, the sheer number of characters among the dwarves was one of the reasons Peter Jackson hesitated in taking the helm, but so far he managed quite nicely. While most of the dwarves still appear as blurs in the first film, you may already get to know some of them through appearance, and even in personality, apart from the evidently distinguishable "a very important dwarf," the Company's leader, Thorin Oakenshield (played by deliciously dashing Richard Armitage).

Thorin and Co., with name tags :P (click to enlarge)

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, Dwarven King-in-Exile

Other than perhaps a dwarf or two, each one had speaking lines in the film, which shows that a good amount of effort was made to help ease audience's confusion on who's who, and why there were so many dwarves in the first place! :) This is one of the points where I appreciate the film: every dwarf is given a distinct appearance, albeit taking more liberties than what was described in the book (where they had simply color-coordinated hoods and beards).

There are many points to appreciate in the film, in fact! While there are new faces such as Martin Freeman, who plays a much younger Bilbo, Richard Armitage, and a host of others such as (see photo that shows who plays who in the Dwarf Company):

The Dwarf Cast! (click to enlarge)

...there were also familiar faces, characters who have been introduced in The Lord of the Rings, such as Gandalf (Ian McKellen), old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm), Saruman the White (Christopher Lee), Lady Galadriel of Lorien (Cate Blanchett), and Lord Elrond of Rivendell (Hugo Weaving). Andy Serkis also reprises his role as Gollum, so he's back in the motion-capture suit and playing Gollum's creepy hiss of a voice. The blend of familiarity and novelty of actors and characters works for the film, I think; it's like meeting new friends with familiar faces, or coming home to old furniture arranged in a new way. :P

Of course, Middle-earth won't be Middle-earth without its vast landscapes and jaw-dropping scenery. The film was generous with its sweeping aerial shots, which also lent me a chuckle: Peter Jackson is most definitely showing off! The film was shot, after all, in New Zealand, where the director is native to. :)

A landscape scene from one of the teaser trailers (click to enlarge: you'll see the Company right there)

Moreover, even with a much larger cast of characters, they all contributed their acting skill to the mix. The more notable performances, of course, came from Ian McKellen, and Martin Freeman just made an adorable, most fitting hobbit! Freeman is known for his "furrowed brow expression," and it gave the character of Bilbo a trait of constant worry, irritation, and pondering--perhaps, for most of the time, of why he had gotten himself into this mess and why should he not have just stayed in his nice, warm, hobbit-hole. :P Richard Armitage brought the stern, grim Thorin Oakenshield to life, with his dwarvish pride, stubborness, commanding bearing and all. And I don't find Sylvester McCoy's Radagast the Brown annoying at all, as I have read in initial reviews. He's quite a fun character, and being an animal lover myself, I found that the character now has a nice, cozy spot in my heart.

Galadriel, Elrond, and Gandalf in Rivendell

While the primary characters have more time to shine, the rest of the Company gave solid performances. The dwarf cast established an essence of Tolkien's Dwarven race, if I may be so bold as to put that out. :) These are no bumbling comic relief dudes. They're a race full of purpose: brave one moment, frightened the next, then cheery in another: rambunctious fellows with not-so-refined manners but with a steadfast obstinacy of never backing up from a quest (even when a number of them doubted Bilbo in the first place, and suspected him of backing up from the journey!). In The Lord of the Rings, Elves were all the rage; now, with The Hobbit, dwarves are taking the front seat, no longer a shadowed Middle-earth race, but a more fleshed-out, relatable one.

What puts this film together as well is the musical score. Howard Shore came aboard the project once more, stringing melodies from his old work with new ones. The old themes send a good amount of warmth to the heart, while the new ones pound lustily into the viewers' heads: the "Misty Mountains" theme is one of the newer ones, played frequently enough throughout the film to leave an impression. :) However, there are also moments when the soundtrack lends a "sleepy" feel to the film, at least in my opinion; the "Riddles in the Dark" scene, although played well, went slower than I thought it should because of how the score "lazily" trickled into it.

"The Hobbit" soundtrack cover

Furthermore, I can say that I have encountered a problem about the film which a lot of critics share: the over-stretching of some scenes which make the film longer than it should. I won't be pointing out particular scenes to avoid spoilers for those who have not seen the film yet (although I'm quite certain nearly all the populace has! :P), but some scenes may have improved the pace of the film more had they been cut shorter, or had not been over-embellished. Alright, a hint: some action scenes can start becoming tedious after a while. It's a shame, really, since I do know that a lot of the cast did their own stunts and trained hard for such demanding scenes.

Riddles In The Dark...

Other than that a couple of issues I had with the film, I say that the trilogy is off with a good start! Ah yes, my thoughts on ONE BOOK becoming a TRILOGY: initially, I raised an eyebrow and kept it that way for a short time only; I got over it quickly. :P The "trilogy announcement" happened a mere few months from the opening of An Unexpected Journey that I imagined everyone involved in the film, as well as the press going haywire about the last-minute decision. Why did I get over it quickly, though? I've re-read The Hobbit after some years, and apart from Peter Jackson, et al. assuring fans that their extra material will come from the appendices found in The Return of the King (and a bit from Peter Jackson's own imagination for his adaptation), I did see how a book can manage to stretch into three films (albeit the first installment had a little excess). For example: one page of narration in the book chronicles events which happen in three-days' time. That could easily be about fifteen minutes' worth of film, in my opinion.

A Dwarf Holiday in Bag End. :P

Now on to the final touch which I feel very much contributed to the film to fans (male and female, I suppose, but more on the latter!)


No offense to the race, but after encountering a beard-laden, frequently-taciturn Gimli in the LOTR trilogy, it's quite unlikely to the imagination that a very handsome dwarf would spring from stone or a bearded dwarven mother. But lo and behold! It's been a known joke among the cast and crew that if Middle-earth had a share of boy bands from Durin's Folk (which a good part of the dwarven race is often referred to), well, they would be:

DURIN'S HEIRS (click for optimal viewing pleasure :P)


Appealing looks win the eye over, and perhaps apart from making good-looking dwarves a selling point of the film, I would say that these three: Thorin Oakenshield, Fili, and Kili (both of whom are Thorin's nephews or "sister-sons") were given the attractiveness of dwarves of royal lineage in their prime. Dean O' Gorman and Aiden Turner lent their youthfulness to Fili's and Kili's roles who, in the book, are considered the much younger and more able-bodied dwarves of the Company. Of course that translates to hotness as well as you can see.


Aiden Turner as Fili

Fili isn't half-bad, either! Fili is Kili's older brother of five years.

Dean O' Gorman as Fili

Look at that. The royal line of Durin at its finest, I believe. :P (And I hope you didn't miss the photo I included of Richard Armitage as Thorin earlier. NOW THAT'S A KING RIGHT THARRR)

Well, you can say that adding a dash of hotness isn't the only stunt which Peter Jackson and crew tried to pull off. :P The film was shot using state-of-the-art equipment, and the film as well is being screened at 48 frames per second, when a "normal" movie would be at 28 frames per second. This has been introduced as HFR-3D, with "HFR" standing for "high frame rate."

I have watched it in both HFR-3D and IMAX 3D, and I can say right off the bat that I do prefer HFR-3D. THE CLARITY BLEW ME AWAY. Yes, 48 fps can lend a very clear quality to the film so that it registers almost like a television show, but the detail that can be gleaned from such quality is astounding. IMAX 3D got me, in some parts, dizzied up, but not so with HFR-3D. I actually enjoyed the experience, for all the critics say about it. And if you must know, I haven't watched the film in 2D yet, so I can't compare; although if I were to watch a movie in theaters, I might as well eat up all the "experience-enhancing" gimmicks for all they're worth--but only if it's a movie that I really have been anticipating, such as this one. :)

Tip: Make sure you get 3D goggles that are NOT fogged up from use. :)

Thorin & Co. 

While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey may not have reached an all-time high among critics (it's only about 65% positive in, it has and still continues to win old and new fans over. 3 hours on the theater seat can be uncomfortable, but not so much when you're enjoying a nice adventure! With a great cast, epic visual effects (which don't drown out the actors as most visual effects-laden films tend to do), lingering musical score, quotable script, humorous bits in the right places--you'll still feel the wonder of Middle-earth in this new film. :) It may not be as novel as when you have first encountered The Lord of the Rings, but that doesn't mean that The Hobbit trilogy is out of great promise. I'm looking forward to The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, and The Hobbit: There And Back Again more than I could ever admit, and if Peter Jackson and crew have heard what could've been worked on in their first installment, they'd be working out the knots and cogs of the upcoming ones. I'm sure they'll be no less than sweepingly epic. :)

And with that, I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a four stars out of five. Which reminds me: I ought to watch it at least a couple of more times before it disappears from theaters! :P

I KNOW THIS IS A LENGTHY REVIEW (AS ALWAYS). :P But hey, if it's something dear to me, I really put the effort to it. :)

So have any of you watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey already? What? No? FOR SHAME!!! I'm kidding. ^_^


*Movie posters and photos are copyrighted to Warner Bros. :)


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