Rating: 4 stars out of 5
“I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure,” says Gandalf in the opening scenes of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.’
“We have no use for adventures,” replied a Halfling sitting on his front porch, a Bilbo Baggins.
One would have expected Peter Jackson to share Bilbo’s sentiment when Mexican director Guillermo Del Toro dropped out from helming the prequel to the Lord of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy. But of course like Bilbo, Jackson couldn’t resist the thrills of another quest.
Just like its namesake, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ is unexpected in many ways, and possibly the most obvious surprise are the crisp, eye-popping hyper-real images.
We caught the ‘An Unexpected Journey’ in the High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D version and at 48-frames-per-second; it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before once the 3D glasses were put on.
Almost immediately, it’s as if you’ve stepped into a stunning Middle Earth diorama: grand sweeping vistas and gorgeous waterfalls, all rendered in hyper clarity. Even the dwarves, elves, hobbit and orcs look so real you want to reach out and touch them.
For the movie geek, this new hyper-real feel is a bonus. The result of higher frame rate, it creates a smoother and captivating experience for the viewer as it loses the flicker that’s present in conventional movie-making.
Whether or not this new format will be the new industry standard is another subject altogether (James Cameron will be using HFR 3D in the ‘Avatar’ sequels) and ‘An Unexpected Journey’ is certainly worth a visit to the cinema as this film offers more than Tolkien’s original 1937 text -- now supplemented by the LOTR appendices and expanded into a trilogy.
But enough about the movie’s technological awesomeness… (for now) for those of you who are not familiar with the tale, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ takes place some 60 years before the events of LOTR. So what we’ve got here is Bilbo (Frodo’s uncle), a company of dwarves and a wizard on a journey to slay a dragon and reclaim their home. And along the way we are given clues into the foreshadowing of growing evil in Middle Earth -- a prevalent theme that links ‘An Unexpected Journey’ and LOTR.
Also read: Peter Jackson defends 'The Hobbit'
Martin Freeman (‘Sherlock’, ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy’) plays the quirky and mild-mannered title character, Bilbo Baggins, who was recruited by the towering wizard Gandalf (a very effective Sir Ian McKellen) for this quest. Although a little mediocre in the beginning, his reluctant hero character arc slowly develops as the story moves along; we’re curious as how he’ll grow by the end of the trilogy.
And then there are the dwarves; all 13 of them led by their brooding elf and orc hating leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). With confusing names such as Oin (John Callen), Gloin (Peter Hambleton), Fili (Dean O’Gorman) and Kili (Aidan Turner) and similar features, the only way you can tell them apart is from their facial hair.
Also see: Meet The Hobbit (And Dwarves)
Being a prequel to LOTR, there are many familiar characters, references and cameos from elves Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), white wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) and the schizophrenic – and often quoted –Gollum (Andy Serkis).
The scene between Gollum and Bilbo is one of the movie’s highlights, the pair play a game of riddles during their encounter similar to a minimalist theatre piece rekindling their old magic from previous movies.
Considering the fact that ‘An Unexpected Journey’ is only one third of a movie from a book that’s one third the size of the entire LOTR trilogy, Jackson manages to fill it with plenty of action and keep the story moving; balancing comedy and intense scenes to great effect – ‘The Hobbit’ is a children’s book after all.
Emotionally gratifying and imaginatively detailed, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ represents movie-making on an epic scale. Hardcore Tolkien fans will revel in its rich material and how Jackson stays faithful to the source material, while weaving past and future Middle Earth elements coherently. Who cares it it runs just 11-minutes shy of three hours.
Just come prepared with empty bladders because you just won’t want to leave your seat.