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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (2012)

Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher

Written By: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro, JRR Tolkien (novel)

Directed By: Peter Jackson

The Short Version

Peter Jackson returns to Middle Earth to tell the tale from the beginning.

This is not the book.  This is not the other films.  This is its own great experience.

Its own great and utter engrossing experience, with a wonderfully realized world and atmosphere.

The cast is outstanding.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey should be on your “must view” list.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

CHEDDAR.

The pride of any hobbitses’ pantry, Precious…


Pairs Well With...

FRUITY RED WINE.

A surprising choice for a company of hard living dwarves to go with, but hey, I’ll play along.

“I’m going on an adventure!”


When I was growing up, my absolute favorite (fiction) book was JRR Tolkien’s “The Hobbit.”  Many years have passed since then, but I still consider it one of the greatest works of literature ever written… superior even, dare I say it, to “The Lord of the Rings.”

Considering the high esteem in which I hold the book, some might think that Peter Jackson’s movie (the first of three) would be facing an uphill battle with me, simply because of the comparison game.   However, though I freely agree that nothing exists in a vacuum and that comparisons to the book are (and to some degree should be) inevitable, I also understand that different media play to different strengths, and that it’s impossible for a movie to be “just like the book,” or vice versa.  (If that ever is the case, then either the author or the filmmaking crew screwed up royally somewhere.)  The printed page and the silver screen are two different experiences, and each deserves to be judged on its own merits.

With that in mind, whatever differences there may be between it and those sections of “The Hobbit” from which it is derived, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey shares one definite characteristic with its literary inspiration: it is a superb, immersive entertainment experience.

It speaks volumes for the talent of Peter Jackson that most people will accept that he creates an epic atmosphere for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as a given… and the fact is that “most people” are right.  Looking at things from whatever angle one cares to look from, this is a film the draws the viewer in from the very first moment, never relinquishing its hold until several minutes after the end credits start to roll.  The production values are off the charts.  One of the most incredible fantasy worlds ever imagined looks completely real.  It feels like a stretch to consider these “sets” rather than “locations;” one can easily imagine someone moving back into Bilbo’s hobbit hole as a regular home once the cameras have been put away.  The costume design and make up are first rate.  And then there are the songs… the amazing, heroic, soul-stirring songs.

Everything you need to know about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey can be compressed into an analysis of a single sequence of scenes from the first act of the film: the first meeting of our unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and the company of dwarves with whom he will shortly be sharing an adventure.  Feel the warmth of the hobbit hole that is Bilbo’s home: rich in detail, lived in, pantry full, doilies on the mantelpiece, heirloom furniture.  Consider the master of the house: Freeman’s Bilbo, to me, is the very picture of what I had always imagined in my mind’s eye that a live-action hobbit “should be like.”  Instantly acceptable and recognizable as Tolkien’s catalyst Halfling.  Meet the dwarves: uncouth, but hardly barbaric; likable frat boys from a bygone age who will at first terrify any homeowner but who will, in the end, not actually wreck very much.  Reacquaint yourself with the master of ceremonies, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen, X-Men), who despite being twice as tall as anyone else remains quiet in the shadows save for those few moments when circumstances require him to assert himself to nudge things in the right direction.  The scene is set; we’ve met all of our heroes.  A wonderful, immersive introduction that tells the audience so much more than any amount of dialogue could have carried across…

And then they start to sing.

I nearly cheered aloud when the dwarves begin to sing “Blunt the Knives” (aka “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates”).  So much fun, and everything one needs to know about the dwarves when their hearts are light.  Based on the happy laughter and the quiet karaoke around me, the majority of the nearly-full theatre was with me.

But that was just the appetizer.  To cap off this series of sequences, there’s one more piece of music: one that summarizes the entire film, including those parts we have yet to see.  In an impossibly rich voice, Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger) begins to intone “Misty Mountains.”  Born of ancient Norse sagas, this song is from Tolkien’s own pen, and if you are not moved by the voices of these men-as-dwarves, then you simply have no soul to stir.  This is music that reaches deep within, past the bones, through the heart, and electrifying every nerve.  It is an ultimate proof that film is not just a visual medium, and one the greatest uses of song in a motion picture ever.  Period.

Together, this sequence of scenes takes only a portion of the first act (I didn’t time it exactly, having no desire to turn my eyes away from the screen and toward my watch), and yet… I can think of few slices of any motion picture of any era that have impacted me so deeply.

And remember, folks, this is just the introduction.  Imagine now how the rest of the story goes.

Yes, you will see much that is not quite as it was in the book, but we’ve already had that discussion as much as we need to, haven’t we?  Yes; I thought so.

Yes, you will see much that is generated by a computer, and obviously so, and while Gollum (Andy Serkis, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) is indeed still the paragon of perfect CGI animation, nothing else really lives up to his standard… but, unusually, I found and find that I did not and do not care.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a pure fantasy world, and within it, there is room for latitude, especially when realizing the impossible.  The computer generated visuals are quite more than good enough, and even when they’re recognizable for what they are, they’re still state of the art.

No, the ending isn’t really an ending, but what were you expecting from a Part One of Three?  It’s satisfying enough to tide one over for a year, and doesn’t feel like a cheat.  It does what it needs to do.

It makes me want to see more… but first, I’d like to keep dreaming this movie for a while.  Because that, in the end, is what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels like: something more than a motion picture, but rather, a dream of an old reality, a memory from a past long forgotten, a past that may have been mine, may be ours, may be… maybe…

Maybe there’s less difference between the film and the book than most pundits think.

Bottom line, it’s time to go on an adventure.  Expect to take An Unexpected Journey with The Hobbit… and expect that when you return, you will not be the same.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, February, 2013


More From The Bar! | JourneyQuest | Dune | Thor |



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