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• The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

TheHobbit-posterPeter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Hobbit has been in theaters for a month, and I’ve already seen it twice.  I figured this movie would be something most people would go see, but there have been a spate of negative reviews, and I noticed that – to my utter amazement and disgust – a dumb comedy called A Haunted House nearly doubled The Hobbit’s box office take over the weekend.  Granted, these are two very different films aimed at very different audiences, but I imagine there’s some Tolkien fans who are still sitting on the fence.  I didn’t see the 48 frames per second version, but I did see it in Imax 3D, and that’s the version I’ll be reviewing.

I should point out that I’ve been a fan of Tolkien since I was about eight years old, when I first saw the animated film version of The Hobbit.  It wasn’t long before I read the book, and a little while later I read the much longer and more intimidating The Lord of the Rings. But it was The Hobbit that introduced me to the hobbits, dwarves, elves, and wizards of Middle Earth.  I quickly became obsessed with that world and its characters.  There were no toys in any stores readily available, but I found some anyway – unpainted miniatures made for the pen and paper role-playing games – which I diligently collected with what little allowance I had.  I suppose you could say I was something of a diehard fan, and while my interest has waned over the years, I anticipated a proper live action adaptation of the book.

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When it was announced that Jackson would be dividing the story into three films the news didn’t bode well, but now I’m quite happy he didn’t try to cram the whole story into one film.  The first part, An Unexpected Journey, runs for almost three hours but (aside from one or two scenes) feels like it goes by all too soon.  There seems to be some consensus that the 48 frames per second version of the film is a bit off-putting, but the regular 3D version is – to my eyes, at least – quite successful.

As in The Lord of the Rings, the costumes, make-up, sets, props, and CGI are all incredibly well done and faithfully recreate the world and characters.  As an artist myself, I tend to revel in the details, and being able to see all of it in 3D adds to the experience. When, for example, Bilbo excuses himself from an uncomfortable meeting with Gandalf and peeks through Bag End’s circular windows to be sure the old wizard is gone, the 3D effect makes the scene that much more effective.

And Jackson’s adaptation isn’t just a rote retelling of the book, but fleshes out the story with scenes based on material found in the appendix of The Lord of the Rings.  I wasn’t entirely happy with the changes made to The Lord of the Rings, but here the extra material is interwoven into the plot quite successfully.  When Tolkien first wrote The Hobbit, he didn’t have the entire picture in his head – so all of this extra material from the appendix helps create a more cohesive whole.  For example, readers of the book will no doubt recall the warg attack on the party, which causes them to climb into trees.  This scene felt like a random attack in the book, but is given context through the inclusion of a character from Thorin’s past.  Other scenes have been added to foreshadow the events of The Lord of the Rings, so that all of the films will better mesh together.

A part of me is not one hundred percent happy with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo (or perhaps Jackson’s interpretation of the character), and some of the key moments (like the three trolls, or riddles in the dark) felt just a little shy of hitting their mark.  However, it’s immediately obvious how much love and care has gone into these films, that, given Hollywood’s track record of crapping on its source material, makes me appreciate them all the more.

I was a little leery about seeing this movie after the initial make-up tests and its lukewarm reception – I’ve honestly got to wonder what they were expecting – but I am happy to report that in my opinion it’s pretty awesome and you shouldn’t miss it while it is still on the big screen.

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