Ratings for reviews will appear above the fold, while the review itself will appear below the fold to avoid spoilers for anyone that wants to go into it with a blank slate.
Jean-Paul’s rating: 3/5 stars
Before we get to the movie, a few notes about technology. I saw this movie in 3D and HFR and Dolby ATMOS.
I continue to think that 3D is mostly useless. I won’t rehash its failings, but I agree with everything Roger Ebert has said about 3D. The best thing I can say about “An Unexpected Journey” in 3D was that it didn’t distract at all.
HFR stands for high frame rate. The movie was shown in 48 frames per second instead of the normal 24 fps. This took some getting used to. The difference was very noticeable. Everything was very crisp and sometimes created a strange illusion of everything being in perfect focus no matter the distance from the camera. That was a little disconcerting. As the movie progressed, though, I noticed it less and less. It’s definitely worth seeing the HFR version if you can. Unfortunately, HFR and 3D go together for this movie and there aren’t any 2D movies scheduled to be shown in HFR.
Dolby ATMOS is the newest craze in ambient theater surround sound. I really don’t see much of a difference between it and THX sound. It is mildly amusing to hear dwarven snores that are coming from behind you, but it seems more like a gimmick than a viable technology for this movie. I could see horror movies taking advantage of the technology to maximum effect. It’s still a pretty new technology and chances are you don’t have a theater near you that offers it, but give directors a chance to learn this technology and maybe we’ll see good things from it.
Now, on to the movie review.
Peter Jackson has taken J.R.R. Tolkein’s “The Hobbit”, a 300 or so page book, and turned it into three 3 hour movies. I went into movie 1, “An Unexpected Journey”, with some trepidation (and an empty bladder) as a result. How could the shortest of Tolkein’s novels be turned into a six hour extravaganza? Is there enough there? If “An Unexpected Journey” is any indication, the answer is a very satisfying yes.
The movie starts with old Bilbo writing his memoirs just before the start of the first “The Lord of the Rings” movie. Frodo makes an appearance before he rushes out to surprise Gandalf as he shows up for Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday bash. This intro will probably annoy die hard Tolkein fans and thrill the trilogy movie fans. It serves the purpose of reminding movie fans who the main character is and it allows Bilbo to recount the taking of Lonely Mountain by the dragon Smaug.
I was amazed while watching this at how much of the book I had forgotten. I think this is mostly because I remember more of the cartoon movie, which I have seen umpteen million times, and this pushed out my memories of the book. Fans of the book will appreciate that the Necromancer makes a short appearance as well as Radagast.
The best parts of this movie are when they are filling in the back story. But that’s Tolkein for you. Almost all of his books are mostly back story. I would have probably liked the movie a lot more if it were all back story.
Now for the bad part. That would be the dwarves. I was worried going into the movie that the cartoonish nature of some of the dwarves would bother me. From the previews, there is no sense that the dwarves you see could possibly be part of the same species. And while this was a little unsettling, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as I expected. What did bother me, though, was the unreality that the dwarves seemed to inhabit. It is apparently really hard to kill or even injure a dwarf. They can be thrown down winding dank pits, cling to moving rocks on treacherous ledges like they were super glued, and ride wooden platforms down hundreds of feet without being at all harmed.
As in the first trilogy, this movie is also filled with walking, roaming, hiking, and more walking, but also running away from stuff. And getting captured. Then Gandalf saving everyone. Then running away. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
That’s not to say this was a bad movie. I actually rather enjoyed it and I will definitely see the other two. But I have no wish to actually see this movie again. Unless, of course, they release a cut version that only shows all the back story parts.