Film: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"; Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Connolly, Evangeline Lilly, Ian McKellen, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom and Stephen Fry; Director: Peter Jackson; Rating: ***1/2 - visually spectacular fantasy.
There is something appealing about "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey". It transports you to a world of fantasy. A land long forgotten with wizards, dwarves, dragons, elves, orcs, trolls, goblins, stone giants and the likes.
Peter Jackson's prequel to the hugely popular epic fantasy-adventure "Lord of the Rings" trilogy - "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is, noticeably, different; lighter in some respects, but at par. If you enjoyed "Lord of the Rings", you will love this.
Set in the City of Dale in Middle Earth, the story of the Unexpected Journey is the transformation of the protagonist, Bilbo (Martin Freeman), from an anxious stay-at-home hobbit to a war hero. It is also the voyage of the dwarves to reclaim their homeland, the Kingdom of Maurya, from the Dragon.
The film starts on a somewhat slow and it takes a while for the setting to sink in, action to kick in and the story to roll.
Bilbo is a happy-go-lucky hobbit who is content to be within the confines of his home at Bag End. Then one fine day, Wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) visits him and his life changes. He is forced to entertain the 13 warrior dwarves, who congregate in his house at the behest of the wise wizard, in an unexpected party. After much deliberation, with a superfluous singsong, Gandalf insists, "The home behind you and the world ahead". He thus manages to get the wimpy Bilbo to accompany them in their quest to reclaim 'the heart' of The Lonely Mountain from Smaug, the dragon.
Given the setting, the road through stunning mountains is littered with plenty of orc skewering and goblin beheadings. The action is lighter and more flimsy than that of "Lord of the Rings". Still, much of it is childlike fun, particularly, a battle along a maze of footbridges suspended throughout a goblin cave.
One of the highlights that blends technical wizardry with human performance, centres on a mesmerising appearance by Gollum (Andy Serkis). Bilbo's life-or-death battle of wits with Gollum, showcases a new standard for motion - capture technology.
Andy Serkis steals the scene, emoting the creature's terrible desperation, sneaky cynicism and tragic self-pity by quick turns. Every nuance of scowls, murmurs, delusions and painful writhing when his beloved ring goes missing, is brilliantly captured by Jackson in those computer graphic eyes. The conflict between the two also provides the film with a climactic moment for Bilbo, not just because he takes that precious ring, unwitting of its power, but because he must choose whether Gollum lives or dies.
True to J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937 children's novel "The Hobbit", the characters shine in this film. Richard Armitage debuts as dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield, ennobled from a fairly comical figure in Tolkien's text to a brooding warrior king in the mould of Viggo Mortensen from the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Peter also plucked the brutal orc Azog out of Tolkien's footnotes, as a weak opponent, and made him Thorin's sworn enemy, adding some complexity to this otherwise single dimensional character.
The casting is perfect and performances, outstanding; all the dwarves are impeccably cast and have their moments in the spotlight. Ian McKellen is possibly even better here than he was in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Freeman as the charismatic lead, employing that familiar look of weary bemusement, offers a humorous counterpoint to the entire, otherwise pessimistic surrounding. Richard Armitage with his stealthy looks is a good counter balance for the Hobbit. Cate Blanchett as the elf queen Galadriel, Christopher Lee as Saruman, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Elijah Wood as Frodo go full throttle.
The production design and cinematography are amazing. The music and background score is used appealingly to enhance the entire experience. The technical 3D or 48 frames per second becomes secondary to the emotions in the scene. If you saw Unexpected Journey in conventional 2D projected at 24 frames per second, you wouldn't miss much.
Peter Jackson is truly a real wizard for putting this together in 3D and 48 frames per second. Die-hard fans of Tolkien may approve of Jackson's determination to boost-up every detail of the novel, but for a casual viewer, this might not work as the plot runs thin and the journey is excessively padded. Also the film concludes suddenly like a cliff hanger - without a proper resolution with Bilbo saying "The worst is behind us".
Well, if this is the worst and the best is yet to come, "The Hobbit" could end up being another great trilogy.