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The Hobbit movie poster

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Movie Review

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Peter Jackson

Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
Released by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Running time: 169 minutes
Year: 2012

In Short: Return to Middle Earth with this prequel to "The Lord of the Rings," created by the same team that brought the world that beloved cinematic trilogy.

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A Triumphant Return to Middle Earth

It makes sense that Peter Jackson and his key filmmaking team (producer/wife Fran Walsh and screenwriter/neighbor Philippa Boyens) would want to return to Middle Earth. After all, their three film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" grossed over $1 billion in the United States alone (and each movie made almost that much or more worldwide) and took home numerous Academy Awards. So why not go back to that well again?

Which is exactly what the trio have done with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first picture in their three-part adaptation of Tolkien's precursor to the "Rings" trilogy. "The Hobbit" was published in 1937; Jackson's version begins just like the book does, when Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen, in a reprise of his same role in the "Rings" movies) recruits the youthful Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) to go on that "unexpected journey."

That adventure joins those two with a band of dwarves who are determined to gain back their mountain home, which was long ago taken over by a very nasty dragon named Smaug. But to do that, the band of thirteen (plus the Hobbit and the wizard) must face plenty of obstacles along the way, including giant trolls, nasty Orcs (goblins) and other extremely evil entities.

Richard Armitage in The Hobbit Martin Freeman in The Hobbit

Many familiar elements to the later Middle Earth stories appear in this prequel, which only covers the first six chapters of the novel. Fans of the "Rings" trilogy will herald the return of Gollum, one of the creepiest creatures ever put on film, as well as the Elves of Rivendell, Galadriel their protector and even the wizard Saruman, as well as the familiar landscapes of Middle Earth, which are sometimes actually Jackson and company's home country of New Zealand and other times completely CGI creations.

There's plenty of action, swordplay and scary moments (those Orcs are enough to give anyone nightmares), all set against a backdrop of plenty of those incredible special effects, especially when viewed with 3-D glasses in place — although we're not entirely convinced that Jackon's choice of a 48 frames per second rate was the way to go, as the movie was patchy at times with an inconsistent feel. It's an exciting first chapter, but at almost three hours long could perhaps have done with a little less hiking across the landscape. But that's all part of the journey whenever you head to Middle Earth with Peter Jackson, so settle in and enjoy it. And don't be surprised when the movie ends in the middle of the story!

Fans of the "Rings" trilogy will adore this flick; and the good news for lovers of Tolkien is that the filmmakers have already shot the two movies to follow, which are due out in 2013 and 2014. The bad news for fans (and Jackson, too)? These three pictures mark the end of the Tolkien saga of Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and the rest of the inhabitants of Middle Earth. Perhaps the lengthy runtimes make up for the fact that there will be no more films thereafter.


Reviewed by Alain Gayot



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