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Review: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ in IMAX 3D

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Last night, or actually earlier this morning, I finally got to watch Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in glorious IMAX 3D, and it was well worth the 9 year wait.  Unfortunately, my screening wasn’t in 48 FPS, or as the industry is calling it, HFR 3D, so I can’t comment on that technology for this review.  Although, I can tell you that the film looks absolutely stunning in IMAX 3D, and considering that I got to see the Man of Steel trailer in that format, as well as the 9-minute Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’ve been able to get over the fact that I didn’t get to see it in HFR 3D.  No worries though, with as much fun as I had watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last night I’ll surely be checking it out again, and this time it’ll be in HFR 3D.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (IMAX 3D Version Reviewed)

EB 9.5 out of 10 Buddhas

The Awesome

  • Faithful retelling of Tolkien’s classic adventure with a splash of Jackson flare
  • Wonderful 3D effect
  • A prequel done right

The Not so Awesome

  • Heavy on action but light on emotion

If you’ve been reading negative reviews of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey please stop now!  I’m not sure which film those angry critics watched, but it can’t be the excellent Middle-Earth prequel I took in.  Peter Jackson has once again crafted a fine movie based on one of the most popular books in the fantasy fiction genre that faithfully captures the source material, while at the same time presenting it in a way that only Hollywood can.  I can’t thank the Universe enough for aligning in a perfect manner to allow the King of Tolkien movie making the chance to return to Middle-Earth, so he could complete the ultimate fan opus of one of the greatest works of fantasy fiction in the history of man.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey begins with a fantastic prologue voiced by an old Bilbo that tells of the coming of Smaug to Erebor to help set the scope of the film for viewers who may not be Hobbit historians.  Jackson shows us why the dwarves under the mountain were exiled from their homes, and the factors that have driven Thorin to embark on his quest to reclaim his people’s rightful home in the Lonely Mountains.  This prologue, similar to the one in Fellowship of the Ring, perfectly summed up the happenings of Middle-Earth to help set the stage for Jackson’s latest trilogy, and for fans of his LOTR films, it serves as the ultimate tie-in to that trilogy.

Thorin Oakenshield getting his epic pose on

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I don’t think Jackson needed to bring back Elijah Wood and Ian Holm to reprise their roles of Frodo and old Bilbo respectively for hardcore fans, but their inclusion is a nice touch for fans of the movies, and not the books.  I definitely had some fanboy-like emotions running through me during the scenes between Frodo and the Bilbo, and these scenes helped to cement the tie in to the LOTR films.  They are done in a way that makes complete sense, and they’re set just before the beginning of Fellowship during the party planning for Bilbo’s 111th birthday celebration.  There’s plenty of references to the books in these moments, so I think even the most hardcore Tolkien traditionalists will find the inclusion of Frodo and the old Bilbo in a Hobbit movie to be kosher.

The actual movie kicks off with old Bilbo recounting his tale of an unexpected journey thanks to Gandalf the Grey.  This is when we first get to see Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, and I must say I really feel that he nailed the character.  Freeman brings all sorts of nuances to the role that help to establish the young Bilbo as a hobbit who is torn between the simple life of the Shire, and the thrill of becoming an adventurer.  He gives a very physical performance in regards to his facial movements and body language, and he played off of the other actors with ease.  The first scene between him and Gandalf got plenty of laughs from my midnight screening audience, and his brand of humor carried on throughout the film.  Martin has definitely come to own the role of Bilbo, so I can’t wait to see how things play out in the second and third Hobbit movies.

Bilbo reviews his contract from the dwarves

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The laughs continue in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey once Gandalf forcibly includes Bilbo into the plans of Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves.  If you’ve read the book this scene plays out almost identically.  The myriad cast of dwarves with all sorts of shapes, and facial hair begin to intrude upon Bilbo’s hobbit hole with all sorts of laughs for the audience.  Jackson’s team did a fine job casting the 13 dwarves, and they all looked and acted like I imagined when I first read the book.  Jackson even paid homage to Tolkien’s penchant for singing in his books with a moving rendition of the “Misty Mountain” song kicked off by Thorin himself, and finished off by the entire group of dwarves.  It was very reminiscent of the trippy 70’s cartoon version of The Hobbit, so it was pretty rad to see it play out in a live action format.

In addition to introducing the main cast of The Hobbit in the scene referenced above, Jackson also tried to inject the emotional component of his movie at this time.  If you’ve read the book you know that Bilbo struggles with leaving the comforts of his hobbit hole, and that fact lingers with him for a good part of the journey.  This is what leads Thorin to question his allegiance at times, and what setup the special bond between these two characters by the end of the book.  I just never felt like Peter successfully managed to hook me emotionally in regards to the whole Bilbo and Thorin deal, which led to me feeling like his Hobbit trilogy will be more action heavy than emotionally heavy like his LOTR trilogy was.

Bilbo meets his partners

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Honestly though, I think that’s OK considering that The Hobbit isn’t supposed to be LOTR.  At its heart it is a children’s novel that was meant to fill kids’ minds with a magical land, that contains a fantastic cast of characters and lavish locations.  It never had the deep emotional struggle that Frodo had with his journey to destroy the One Ring, but I feel that it did have more emotion to it than the film version.  There are moments in the movie where Jackson tried to sell the emotional side of the film, but I just never bought into them like the scenes between Frodo and Sam, or any of the other personal struggles from LOTR.

Enough with the negativity already!  This movie is quite far from sucking.  Believe me.  In fact, if you’re into high octane, non-stop action type of fantasy films, you’ll absolutely have your mind satisfied while watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  The moment the dwarves, Gandalf, and eventually Bilbo hit the trail, this movie doesn’t skip a beat.  There’s hardly a pause in the action beginning with the Troll Shaw encounter all the way to the end of the movie, which goes up to the company’s escape from the wargs with a little help from their feathered friends.

Each action set piece is beautifully rendered on screen, and WETA’s magic once again is a shining aspect of another Jackson Tolkien movie.  Not once did I feel like I was watching an overly CGId scene, or one that could’ve used a little more juice to it if you know what I mean.  The infamous troll encounter was a blast to behold, and for the most part it mimicked exactly what I had in my mind when I first read the book.  The three trolls all looked very realistic, so remove any fears you may have about Jackson’s ability to recreate Tolkien’s fantasy world on the silver screen.

The troll showdown was great, but things got a little weird after it.  Jackson decided to include the wizard Radagast the Brown to serve as a vehicle to setup the side threat of The Hobbit, which is the appearance of the Necromancer in Mirkwood.  Now while I appreciate this tactic, I found the character of Radagast to be a little odd.  He serves his purpose well, but at times his inclusion felt forced.  I love how Peter used him to setup the next two movies, and ultimately the events that lead to the LOTR, but he just seemed off.

WETA brings the trolls to life

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Maybe it was his sleigh made out of wood and pulled by rabbits, which you’ll get to see extensively in what could be the most peculiar chase scene ever created in a movie.  This chase is also what led to me not completely enjoying the character of Radagast.  If there’s one moment in this movie that made me feel like I was watching something created by a computer, it was this rabbit versus warg chase scene, but luckily it’s only for a short period of time.

After Radagast gets his Middle-Earth Santa Claus on, which allows the company to escape a hairy situation, the movie continues on to Rivendell.  Once again this Elven city is a spectacle to behold!  It was a hoot to see the troublesome relationship between the races of dwarves and elves when Thorin gets bent out of shape by needing Lord Elrond’s help to read the secret map that will allow them to recapture their home under the mountain.  I once again felt like their could’ve been a little more emotion in these scenes, but in the end they served their purpose.

Radagast sporting the bird shit hair gel look

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From here the company continues their journey east, and they encounter a situation that I can’t recall from the book.  Jackson and his writers took liberties with the story at times to help flesh out the world to new fans, such as the White Council scene in Rivendell, but I found his portrayal of the dwarves and Bilbo traversing the Misty Mountain pass to be odd.  This may be a product of me not reading the book since 2004, but I just don’t remember things taking place the way Jackson portrayed them when he brought the mountains to life with a boulder fight.

It serves its purpose to get the adventurers into the cave that eventually gets them captured by the Goblin King, but it just felt a little too Hollywood, and not true enough to the book.  Again, things may play out the same way in the books, but I just don’t remember the whole Mountain Giant scenario that Jackson created.

The Rock Monster scene

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I would have to say that my favorite part of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the scenes that take place between Bilbo and Gollum when the hobbit gets separated from the dwarves when they’re captured by the Goblin King.  When looking at the third age of Middle-Earth this could be the most pivotal scene in the entire lore of Tolkien’s creation, because it sets up the events that take place in the Lord of the Rings by having Bilbo bring the One Ring back into everyone’s consciousness.

Jackson absolutely nailed this iconic meeting between Gollum and Bilbo that sets the events of LOTR into motion.  Once again Andy Serkis knocks his Gollum portrayal out of the park, and he and Freeman played off each other very well!  The whole game of riddles plays out identically to the book, which was a joy to see.  Serkis gives so much life to the character of Gollum that I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him when he gets duped by Mr. Baggins.

If there’s one scene in this movie that matches the emotional level set in the LOTR movies, this would be it.  Seeing Gollum break down after he realizes that he lost his Precious forever is touching, and Serkis manages to sell this emotion perfectly.  There’s something to be said about his ability to make people like me care for a computer generated character, and Serkis definitely keeps his streak of kick-ass CG performances in tact with his portrayal of Gollum in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

I love this little psychopath

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From this scene things begin to wind down for this first entry in the new Hobbit trilogy.  Jackson uses his embellishment of the Azog character (an orc chieftain from the books), who has a much expanded and slightly different role in the film than the books, to move the story along with some urgency.  This is done to give the audience a tangible enemy to latch onto in this first movie.  Granted Smaug is the main bad guy of The Hobbit, and we do get to see him briefly open his eye before the credits role, but Jackson needed a more tangible bad guy for the first film, so he used this Azog character to play that role.  Like I said it gives more casual fans someone to identify with as the enemy, but if you’re a hardcore scholar of the books you may have some issues with Azog’s expanded, and slightly altered portrayal in the movie.

Anyway, he serves as the vehicle to wrap this film, which ends with the company getting cornered in a tree, and eventually saved by the Eagles.  Just like the Fellowship of the Rings, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just kind of ends after the climax of the tree battle.  I was OK with this fact.  I think Peter picked the perfect spot to end this first movie, and now that I know where it ends I’m not so concerned with the fact that the suits involved decided to split one book into three films.  The ending sets up the Desolation of Smaug to focus on just that, while I imagine the third film will be centered around the Battle of Five Armies.  If you’ve been worrying about this decision I think you’ll find like me that there’s plenty of material left from the books to flesh out two more films.

In the end Peter Jackson has hit another Tolkien movie home run.  It troubles me that a handful of critics have been crapping all over this movie as if it were the second coming of Gigli.  Have we become a society that can’t just let go of real life for a few hours while watching a film based on a fantasy novel?  A movie like The Hobbit isn’t supposed to be all serious like, and while it could’ve used a little more emotional moments, it is still one of the best films of 2012.

If you loved the LOTR trilogy I promise you that you’ll also love The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Peter Jackson and his hard working crew have once again managed to capture the awesomeness of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth in a movie format.  At times he takes some liberties with the story that may offend some hardcore fans of the book, but their inclusion makes sense for what Jackson was trying to achieve.  WETA has managed to make Middle-Earth look more realistic than ever, and their work coupled with Serkis’ performance as Gollum reaffirmed to me that this character could be one of my favorite movie characters of all-time.

This movie is a great film to watch as its full of great highly visual action moments, luscious looking environments, and characters that matter.  I give The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey an impressive EB 9.5 out of 10 Buddhas.  I definitely can recommend the IMAX 3D version, not only because you get to see the Star Trek: Into Darkness preview, but because its presentation is larger than life.  I intend to see the movie in HFR 3D as soon as possible, but if the IMAX 3D is the only version I ever get to see I’ll die a happy Tolkien fan.  Get off your lazy asses and get your hairy hobbit feet to a theater near you!

 

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Tags : fanboysIMAXImpressionsThe Hobbit
Matt Heywood

The author Matt Heywood

Matt Heywood is the founder and EIC of EntertainmentBuddha.com where he strives to make you a better geek, one post at a time! When he’s not scouring the Internet for interesting nuggets of awesomeness he can be found in his secret lair enjoying the latest and greatest video games, taking pictures of toys, or talking Star Wars on EB’s Star Wars Time podcast show.