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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Blu-ray Review [UK]

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - MOvie Review

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2 stars

If this is the future of filmmaking, count me out.  I hate to say it, folks.  It seems that writer/director Peter Jackson might have gone the way of Star Wars guru George Lucas.  In look, in tone, in spirit, and in adventure Jackson's long awaited and eagerly anticipated return to Tolkien's material has more in common with The Phantom Menace than what has come before in Middle Earth.

Visually, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey aims for the stars with a story that is, at its core, much smaller than the people adapting it realize and a blazing new technology that obviously needs more time to bake before being pulled from the oven.  While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has its few moments of cinematic cool (however far between they are), the results of the first film in an unexpected trilogy are beyond muddied at best.  Opening with a rapid-fire storybook prologue about dwarves and the loss of their home, the film whizzes by without resonance – not a good thing for the opening of a trilogy - and ends on a fumbled note as another fellowship is forged (albeit without the same dynamic chemistry or concern).  Filmgoers, when their heads stop spinning from 48-frames-per-second camera sweeps and swoops, will enjoy some of the 3D dazzle of the new technology but Lord of the Rings fans should lower their expectations a bit as the adventure they are expecting it is not.  In fact, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, when compared to the dense artistry of Jackson's previous handling of Middle Earth, comes up - no pun intended - short.

The Hobbit is a children’s story. Never forget this.  It simply doesn’t have the heft of The Lord of the Rings and, no matter how you present it, apparently never will.  Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Phileppa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro do their best to hammer out and work in a bit of J.R.R. Tolkien’s additional mythos into it but, considering where we get to in the original story after a runtime of 169 minutes, one can only describe the first movie as a bloated and indulgent affair with some dazzling special effects as we journey through a fully-digitized Misty Mountain and play a pretty memorable game of riddles with a nasty little creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis steals the show in his fifteen minutes of screen time).  Yes, The Hobbit has been turned into a non-playable video game.

And you'll pay the asking price.  You know you will.

If only that price of admission was worth the horribly off-putting effect of real actors walking across an obvious soundstage as if they were sped-up monkeys unleashed upon a theater stage.  That's what 48-frames-per-second gets you.  Honestly, most of An Unexpected Journey looks like a BBC-produced stage production of a Shakespearean play put on fast forward.  It looks a far cry from the honesty of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Might we be witnessing the downfall of Jackson with this commitment to a new way to see film?  Is this a case of Star Wars?  How’s that for irony?  What came before was better.  Now, I’m not a total luddite; I do see the advantage to the sharpness of the picture (and you will too…once you get inside the misty mountain and hop around a bit) but if Radagast the Brown’s (Sylvester McCoy) bunny-driven bobsled scene leaves you as cold as it left me (we're talking pod race Phantom Menace style), you totally understand that the technology is not quite ready to be unleashed upon the masses.

And all of this would be completely forgivable if there was an honest story to go with it.  For those of you who criticized The Fellowship of the Ring for being a movie about walking and nothing else, then you might want to reconsider that description.  Apply it here instead.  The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a movie about … walking and nothing else.  Oh, there are some nice Trolls that Bilbo (played by an excellent Martin Freeman who really needs more to do) encounters along the way and some dwarves (they are memorable in the book, in the film they simply are not; they are relatively forgettable).  Led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), the group encounters some Orcs and, our favorite wizard, Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) battles a pretty fearsome-looking Goblin King on a cavernous bridge.  While it’s nice to see the familiar faces of Frodo (Elijah Wood), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) again, nothing can hide the fact that 80% of the film is clunky, brain-numbing exposition trapped inside some (at times) nifty-looking special effects.  This is supposed to be the start of something...but it feels cold and lifeless.  Two more films are following this?  Really?

You’ll realize the limitations of exposition as Jackson assembles his dwarves as goofily as one might expect Jim Henson’s Muppets to be introduced.  They aren't funny.  They aren't cute (even on a child level) and the film doesn't quite know how to establish its tone in the frenzified first act.  You’ll forget this when you see Bilbo match wits with Gollum (which is easily the film’s best scene) and forgive the awkwardness of its beginning.  And, finally, you’ll be reminded of its limitations by the inconsistency of its presentation – which turns lavish details into stark theater sets, makeup into third-grade art, and Jackson’s usual sweeping overhead combat work into amusement park rollercoaster rides and then, rather suddenly, all the rendered environments produce some of the best-looking effects you've ever seen.  Obviously, we still have work to do on this technology.

As a fan of Tolkien’s works and the original trilogy directed by Jackson, it is a bit disheartening to admit to you all that, after years of waiting for this project to get off the ground, I am disappointed by the end result.  For every good scene, there's two terrible scenes that counter any ground gained.  That being said, watching its main actors – Freeman, Serkis, and McKellen – saves the film from being a complete waste but even they aren't enough to pull this film from the duldrums.  While I don’t pretend to know what Jackson has in store for the rest of the trilogy, I can honestly say that unlike The Fellowship of the Ring, his pass at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey doesn’t really leave me hungry for more trips through Middle Earth.

Maybe a 48fps 3D-rendered Smaug can change all that.  Maybe.

{2jtab: Film Details}

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - MOvie ReviewMPAA Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 169 mins.
Director
: Peter Jackson
Writer
: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens
Cast:
Ian McKellen; Martin Freeman; Richard Armitage; Elijah Wood; Cate Blanchette
Genre: Fantasy | Adventure
Tagline:
From the smallest beginnings come the greatest legends.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Bilbo Baggins, I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure... "
Distributor:
Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site:
http://www.thehobbit.com
Release Date: December 14, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
April 8, 2013 (UK)

Synopsis: From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson comes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first of a trilogy of films adapting the enduringly popular masterpiece The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The three films tell a continuous story set in Middle-earth 60 years before “The Lord of the Rings,” which Jackson and his filmmaking team brought to the big screen in the blockbuster trilogy that culminated with the Oscar®-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Sorcerers.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum. Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of ingenuity and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s “precious” ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities… A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Blu-ray Review

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
2 stars

4 stars



Blu-ray Experience
3 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + UV Copy] [Region Free]

Available on Blu-ray - April 8, 2013 (UK)
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English, Dutch, French, Italian, Simplified Chinese
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (2 BDs, 1 DVD); UV digital copy; Digital copy; DVD copy
Region Encoding: Region-Free (UK)

This is essentially as good as it gets right now, folks, when it comes to video quality. The MPEG-4 AVC coded picture is a sumptuous feast for your eyes, with flawless crisp vistas, day or night, natural or unnatural flesh tones, as per the need. Whether the brightest of day scenes or the blackest of night scenes the detail throughout is incredible. This is home video, folks, so any lean you may have had on the whole 48 frames per second debate is a moot point here: you get 24 beautiful effective frames per second her in both the 3D and 2D versions, and it looks fantastic.

Audio, like the picture, doesn’t get any better. The 7.1 DTS-HD master provides full immersion, whether in the, at first, quiet confines of Bag End or on Bilbo and the dwarves many misadventures. Base is robust, subtleties consistently dance between speakers at any moment; the dialogue is clear; the surround channels are given a hefty workout. This is a stunning offering.

While we all know that there will be an inevitable Extended Special Super Duper Edition, probably before year’s out, the extras on the this theatrical version aren’t half bad. It includes all the podcasts from production that, if played all at once, make for a very comprehensive look at the making of the film, much like the documentary from The Lord of the Rings box-sets of yore, if significantly shorter. There are trailers, 16 minutes of trailers, a teeny little tour featurette of the locations in New Zealand with Peter Jackson, and a game plug. There will no doubt be another box-set that leaves this offering for dead, though, so if you can wait for that, I would recommend doing so.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • None

Special Features:

• "Video Blog #1: Start of Production"
• "Video Blog #2: Location Scouting"
• "Video Blog #3: Shooting Block One"
• "Video Blog #4: Filming in 3D"
• "Video Blog #5: Locations Part 1"
• "Video Blog #6: Locations Part 2"
• "Video Blog #7: Stone St. Studios Tour"
• "Video Blog #8: "Wrap of Principal Photography"
• "Video Blog #9: "Post-production Overview"
• "Video Blog #10: "Wellington World Premiere"
• Theatrical Trailers - Trailer 1
• Theatrical Trailers - Trailer 3 - Dwar

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