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Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Due to some fantastic luck and a really good friend, I was able to see an early showing of the Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey tonight – and to sum it up short and spoiler-free, it’s dang funny, epic (as expected) and definitely worth your money once or twice over. Personally, there’s a strong chance I’ll be seeing it again before the end of the week. Or I could hop back in line for the midnight premier and catch it again now… nah. While worth it, it would negate the whole point of the early viewing (and it’s sold out already). The review that follows will contain a minimum of spoilers; nothing worse than checking the IMDB listing or seeing a preview of the flick.

The film starts with some heavy exposition as told by original Bilbo, Ian Holm (I personally call him Bilbo Prime), before transitioning into prequel mode and following John Watso- uh,Young Bilbo, Martin Freeman, on his reluctant adventure. The Bilbo Prime universe is set on the morning of the day that Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring starts with, Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. It has a couple of scenes taken from The Fellowship novel, and lots of tie-ins with the later films, which was a theme throughout that I really enjoyed. The entire time I was watching the flick I could see how well it integrated with the original LOTR film trilogy. Basically, it’s the style that the Star Wars prequels attempted and failed horribly at, but actually done right, without any gratuitous Jar-Jar Binks. Future generations could watch this flick first and still have shocked “Luke, I am your father” moments later once they got to the LOTR trilogy. Flashbacks set up in the LOTR filmography were pretty faithfully reproduced within the storyline, running gags were initiated, the frankly beautiful soundtrack was of a similar tone with some of the same recurring musical themes for places and events, and Elijah Wood looked like he was 18 and just legal enough. I’m sure the fact that Peter Jackson directed all the films helped, as did all the fact that a lot of the flashbacks in LOTR are scenes cribbed from The Hobbit novel in the first place, so matching dialogue and tone didn’t end up contrived. References to the Tolkien books abound in An Unexpected Journey, mostly by working chapter titles into dialogue, but occasional exposition is lifted wholesale. I’m personally of the opinion that comparing a book too closely to its film adaptation is just a recipe for disaster, and to be honest, the last time I read The Hobbit was when I was in middle school and I wasn’t a fan (I was all about the LOTR bromance and angst). HOWEVER, An Unexpected Journey stands fine on its own while making me want to give the book another shot. So really, Hobbit part one is supporting literacy in two ways (the other of course being reading the subtitles as orcs, dwarves and elves refuse to speak English).

Now for the nitpicking. I wasn’t too impressed with the special effects. They match the LOTR trilogy pretty spot-on, which bothered me. What was cutting-edge CGI in 2005 is nowhere near what should be cutting edge after The Avengers, and there was a LOT of CGI. The quality level seemed to fluctuate – Gollum’s movements and appearance was Hulk-level good, but scenes done in daylight or featuring a lot of characters got worse on a sliding scale. Part of the time the prosthetics on Bilbo’s feet and the dwarves’ faces seemed incredibly obvious as well. It didn’t exactly detract from the movie, but I didn’t have to be looking for something to dislike to notice it right away, either.

Another bit that was jarring (hah. Jar-Jar…) is some of the POV changes. In LOTR the main cast is always the bearer of point of view – if you are suddenly elsewhere, it’s because you’re catching up with whatever hijinks Merry and Pippin are up to; if you meet someone new, it’s with Gandalf in the scene to introduce you. Some exceptions arose in the case of Rohan, but they wove in to the story in an easily-followed manner. In An Unexpected Journey, however, there’s occasionally random bits of exposition where the viewer is launched into a stranger’s storyline and you just have to stick it out for it to make sense a half-hour later.

However, overall the film was just freaking awesome. The tone matches that of The Hobbit novel, which is a bit more lighthearted than the heavy, constant, soul-sucking angst of LOTR, since Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for his kids when they were just starting to get older and before they wanted to wallow in real-life problems. So while there’s loss and grief and lots of gore, it isn’t overpowering and there’s gags and quip-age throughout. In a particularly hilarious twist, this accidentally makes Galadriel the funniest character in the film. Cate Blanchett has her drama dialed all the way up to 11, and watching her glide around and pose in a manner that would be elegantly appropriate for LOTR just made me bust a gut in The Hobbit. Random songs burst out in a manner most reminiscent of their equally random appearance in the novel, and while I can’t list their names off to save my life, by the end of the film I felt a personal connection to maybe six out of the 13 dwarves (give me a break, all their names rhyme and there’s freaking 13). Martin Freeman is perfect for the character of Bilbo, shaking any resemblance to his other characters played within the first five minutes of his appearance, and is funny as all get out.There are themes of rejection and acceptance, plenty of courage and right at the end there’s enough bromance to set tumblr into spontaneous combustion due to overfeels. Really, take the time and treat yourself to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this weekend.

Reviews are the biased opinion of the author and may not reflect the opinion of Macabre Mansion

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