The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Movie Review

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Martin Freeman in The Hobbit Part 1 - An Unexpected Journey (2012) Movie Image

It’s impossible for me to talk about “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” without first discussing the delivery mechanism. Over the past few months there has been much back and forth over the fact that director Peter Jackson planned to show the film in 48 frames per second, instead of the traditional 24. I’ve got to say, I don’t like it too much. The images do have a stunning clarity to them. In close up shots you can practically count each and every pore on an actor’s face. And it does seem to alleviate some of the eyestrain that pops up with 3D.

Those are the good points, but the bad so much outweighs the positives that I have to recommend trying to find a screening at 24fps. The biggest issue is going to be the motion sickness. Seriously, you might want to take a Dramamine. Every camera movement, every sweeping pan, every epic helicopter shot—and there’s a crap ton of all of them—is enough to make you nauseous. Even more low-key shots, like tracking around Bilbo’s hobbit hole, elicit the same response. Especially disorienting in moments of hectic action—something else “The Hobbit” has a great deal of—you feel like you’re being whipped around by a roller coaster, and not in a fun way. Talking to people, some warm up to this feeling over the course of the film, but I never did.

Richard Armitage in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Movie Image

The overall effect makes “The Hobbit” come across like a videogame, and the characters look like they’re pieces in an elaborate fantasy RPG. An increased frame rate also means that the digital effects don’t mesh as well with the organic images. In Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films, the VFX blended in seamlessly, but that is definitely not the case here. At times the effects just look cheesy and bad, and resemble old movies where characters run in place in front of a rear projection screen, or drive a stationary car while film of a street plays behind them. There are moments that are almost comical.

It isn’t all bad, however. The Goblin King looks pretty damn awesome. He’s suitably grotesque, covered in welts, open sores, and nasty boils. And he looks like he has balls dangling from his chin, so there’s that. There’s also one massive, badass brawl between stone giants that’s pretty spectacular, and all of scenes of the underground realms are damn nice to gawk at.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Movie Image

While the presentation of “The Hobbit” is a huge, huge distraction, the rest of the movie is also something of a letdown. We’ve all heard jokes about how the “Lord of the Rings” is mostly walking, but even as much time as those movies take, there is always forward movement. “The Hobbit” on the other hand, is full of places where the pace just stops dead in its tracks like it slammed into a wall. An extended prologue sets up the story: Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is convinced to go on an epic quest to help a group of dwarves, led by Rob Zombie lookalike Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), to reclaim their former kingdom, which has been taken over by a gold-hoarding dragon.

Even by the weirdly skewed standards by which we judge a Peter Jackson adaptation of a beloved J.R.R. Tolkien novel, “The Hobbit” drags. The introductory dinner scene, where Bilbo meets his cave-dwelling companions, is the first instance where the film goes on too long, meandering on well after the point has been made and beaten like the proverbial dead horse.

Martin Freeman and Graham McTavish in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Movie Image

Abandoning his comfort zone, the reluctant little adventurer accompanies his stubborn, volatile, head-butting companions. From his sleepy small town home, they travel into the great wilderness of Middle Earth. On the road they encounter all manner of creatures, dangers, and hazards; there are wizards, orcs, elves, and, of course, Gollum, to contend with.

Over the course of their journey, the company engages in many an epic battle. This is another area where “The Hobbit” pales in comparison to the “Lord of the Rings”. While the earlier films were full of grim, dirty combat, the fourth film in the cannon relies on gimmicks and lame tricks. Every time the crew gets down to fighting, you get the impression that they’re trying so hard to make the battles feel different, that they’re just throwing things in at random. Instead of badass swordplay and limb hacking, you get attempts to be clever that only succeed in pulling you out of the moment. One particular action sequence takes place on a series of wood and rope bridges that are apparently so fragile a hobbit can barely walk on them. Until a piece of bridge falls off and the company goes sledding down thousands of feet into a cavern. When that happens it holds up shockingly well. Jackson and friends try to be too clever when what they need is more straight up violence.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Movie Image

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” isn’t terrible, in fact it is fine, but it could be so much better. It should be great, but the overuse of CGI, a questionable choice in presentation, and serious pacing issues derail the true potential. In the end you’re left wondering how it went that way, and how in the hell are they going to squeeze two more movies out of this?

Peter Jackson (writer/director)/Fred Walsh (writer)/Philippa Boyens (writer)/Guillermo del Toro (writer)/J.R.R. Tolkien (novel)
CAST: Martin Freeman…Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen…Gandalf
Richard Armitage…Thorin Oakenshield
Hugo Weaving…Elrond
Cate Blanchett…Galadriel


Buy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey on DVD

Author: Brent McKnight

Brent McKnight lives in Seattle with his dogs. He likes beards, movies where things explode, and overcast skies. His three favorite movies are "Rubin and Ed", "A Bittersweet Life", and "Out for Justice". He wishes his knees didn't hurt. On Twitter @BrentMMcKnight
  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

    Okay You should really think of this in terms of Fewllowship of The Ring, as it’s the beginning of a bigger story. It’s more about establishing characters and the world again than the actual story. Fellowship is the slowest of the three films and was basically there to set things up and this is pretty much the same. As for the battles you also have to remember that in LoTR we had one dwarf and two fullsized humans fighting most of the time, three when Gandalf was around. But even then Gimli’s fighting was well, comical because of his stature. Here they had to show waht a group of experienced warrior dwarfs would fight like against many a foe that is bigger than them or posed certain challenges. Also this film is not the gritty, the world will end film that LoTR is so having some lighthearted fun in the battles can work. All this said I’m sure there are issues with the film, the biggest of which is it living up to the LoTR trilogy. All in All great review. I’m still anxious to see it. Movies have never made me queesy with camera movement so this will be no different.

    • Aegon the Conqueror

      That’s the thing! Hobbit isn’t supposed to measure up to LOTR in terms of size and scale! That’s the whole point of the prequel. The battle of the Five Armies should never ever be able to measure up to the scale of the Battle of the Pellenor fields and that’s the whole point!
      It’s funny Brent, I disagreed with just about everything you said in my review, http://www.wicgeeks.com/t51890448/an-unexpected-surprise-a-review-of-the-hobbit-part-1/
      wrote it two days ago after seeing it in 48fps 3D.

      • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

        Aegon, in terms of story no it doesn’t but since LoTR came first in films, that’s the bar that was set. I’m fully aware the tone and scope are very different, thats why I mentioned the story isn’t the gritty world ending story that LoTR was. The scope, and stakes were much higher then so the battles and everything else bigger. I was saying that since people saw LoTR first their standards are set by that film. It’s just a mental thing people have to get passed.

      • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

        Just read your review and it’s exactly what I expected from this movie!! I really loved LoTR and really liked what they did with the story there and the changes they made, and it sounds like he continued the trend. Also cool to hear about The Mountain as Azog!! GOT is one of my favorite shows. I really can’t wait to see what Jackson does with the rest of the story. Now that we’ve gotten passed the Misty mountains and such it’s like full tilt action time now!!!

        • Aegon the Conqueror

          Yeah that’s part of the reason why Conan Stevens didn’t appear in season 2. Their loss though imo. Feel free to stop by any time over at wicgeeks. We’re all a group of passionate GOT fans.
          People really shouldn’t compare the two movies, sigh one more reason why people should get off their lazy butts and start reading.

  • venomAA

    So one really important question for me, how bad is the motion sickness in this movie in the 48 fps format? I suffer badly from it and i can barely watch The Blair Witch with a dramamine.

    • Lexavi80

      I heard is a bit difficult to stand. Can’t say for sure though.

    • Aegon the Conqueror

      I didn’t suffer it at all, I quite enjoyed the 48fps, but that’s just me. I’m pretty much immune to these things. I think if you see it in Imax though you will die.

    • http://twitter.com/BrentMMcKnight Brent McKnight

      I can also be pretty sensitive to that kind of thing, and there were times where I actually had to look away. It did get a little easier to take as you go on, but for me anyway it was a rather constant distraction.

      I’ve talked to people who had the same reaction as me (one critic at the screening had seen it earlier, but wanted to see it again because the 48fps has been such a distraction that she didn’t feel like she could review it without another view because she wasn’t able to pay enough attention to the story.

      Then again, I’ve also talked to people who weren’t bothered by it at all, like Aegon. I think it really depends on the individual.

      • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

        Definitely depends on the individual. I’ve never gotten nauseous playing a FPS never had issue with 3D other than the red/blue glasses giving me a headache back in the day. So I don’t see an issue here either. Will let you all know Monday.

        • http://twitter.com/BrentMMcKnight Brent McKnight

          That’s one thing I really did appreciate about the 48fps. 3D has given me headaches and strained my eyes in the past, but this way that wasn’t a problem.

    • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

      I may have issues. FPS’ make me sick. If I haven’t played a FPS in a while, it takes several sessions of short sittings before I can play a game for extended periods without up chucking my lunch.

  • Lexavi80

    Good review! It does put things in perspective.

    I haven’t seen the movie, but I read in another review that the movie is pretty much like the book… is a story for kids. Lord of the Rings books are definably different and heavier than The Hobbit book, so I guess the movie is the same.

    I think people who compare the two films are going to be somewhat disappointed. I, on the other hand, I know the story, so I’m ready for a light fun ride.

    Hope it pays off!

    • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

      My thoughts exactly! I was already looking forward to a more fun adventure than LoTR cause it’s a good old fashioned adventrure tale.

    • Aegon the Conqueror

      Yeah it’s exactly that! A children’s story, as such it’s fun and light hearted, Peter approached it that way which sits more than alright with me. Fun is the best word to describe the Hobbit.
      I don’t think the two are meant to be compared, cause if PJ made this one heavier and grander than LOTR, it would pretty much have made the events of that movie moot.

      • WingCM

        As such, I was surprised with the decapitations thrown in. Yes, they were just orcs and goblins, but it still caught me by surprise, especially the one killed by Gandalf. Underworld, anyone.

        Overall, a great movie that shows the progression of events that leads to Sauron’s return in LOTR.

  • http://www.grifiti.com Tin Hoang

    The real problem is figuring out who is showing it at 48F IMAX. This movie has so many versions out there and none of them are label correctly!

  • http://www.beyondhollywood.com/ Dedpool

    Absolutely loved it! My 6 year old daughter did too. I did a primer with LoTR first (The prologue and the stone troll scene) and she immediately remembered them while watching the film. I really loved how thus film paralleled “Fellowship of the Ring” and i’m not sure it was entirely intentional and if it wasn’t it’s a testament to Horizon’s vision. I, no, we can’t wait to see the next film. Jackson has done another amazing job with these and the stuff from the appendices that weaves the story of Sauron’s return was very well handled. As a whole the film was just more fun than the LoTR trilogy but it’s supposed to be that way, but this should still be some epic fantasy.

    • Lexavi80

      I watched yesterday with my brothers, and we absolutely loved it!

      I was afraid this was going to feel a little repetitive or tired, but it wasn’t! It was a perfect magic-adventure film! I didn’t felt the 3 hours!

      Ready for the next one!