AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
(directed by Peter Jackson, 2012)
**** (out of 5)
> I went into the theatre to see AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY as primed as I’ve ever been for a film, after the astonishing accomplishment of the previous LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, knowing full well that expectation can damage the enjoyment of a film considerably, and well aware of the mixed, often tepid reviews this first prequel has generated…
. But I couldn’t help myself! I’ve seen THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING maybe five times. (Maybe more!) THE TWO TOWERS four times I reckon, and THE RETURN OF THE KING at least twice. In all three cases, I was stunned by the obvious artistry: the breathtaking “Middle Earth” vistas of New Zealand, the stirring and beautiful music by Howard Shore, the enormous creativity and imagination that went into the art direction- the costumes, makeup, sets and props, the state-of-the-art CG effects, the amazing ingenuity of the action sequences, that looked like nothing ever seen in film before, the cinematographers ability to frame absolutely iconic moments of heroic grandeur that I have no doubt will be remembered throughout future film history. How could I forget all this when settling in to see the first installment of THE HOBBIT? I could not.
. Fortunately, though a lesser film than any of the other three, this opening salvo in the prior adventures of a young Bilbo Baggins has many of the same qualities that made LORD OF THE RINGS shine.
. Though obviously aimed at younger filmgoers than its predecessors, despite its PG-13 rating, the battle scenes here are too intense for the demographic THE HOBBIT seems to be appealing to. AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY treats us to not one, but three beheadings, in some pretty intense battle scenes, featuring the usual malevolent creatures. As in THE FELLOWSHIP, things take a while to get started here, and the film seems to be taking a little nap during the visit to the Elven kingdom of Rivendale, but the rest is pure adrenaline pleasure- from the dangerous yet comical encounter with a trio of hungry trolls to an intense and chaotic sequence with the creepy Goblin King and his nasty minions. Back is the gorgeous scenery, the wonderful and highly detailed fantasy worlds, the rousing and evocative score. The Aragorn substitute here (Richard Armitage) is stiff and hollow, suffering by comparison to Viggo Mortensen, but Martin Freeman as the Hobbit halfling is wryly warm and appealing, and we get the sense we may grow to like him almost as much as Elijah Woods. Andy Sirkis as Gollum is as wonderful as ever! Maybe this time he will get his well-deserved Oscar Nomination. It’s great to have more time with Ian McKellen, but the rest of the company, Hobbits all, seem like cartoony kid’s stuff: dare I evoke the Ewoks of Star Wars? They may grow on me, and acquit themselves later. I hope so.
. Unfortunately, I saw a very important outcome coming despite having never read the book, when our heroes found themselves in yet another impossible-to-survive situation: as far as I’m concerned, a notable flaw in the storytelling to reprise an escape method we had already seen used in a previous film.
. All in all, I had a huge amount of fun watching this film. The last scene was far superior to the way THE FELLOWSHIP just trailed off into nothingness, or the excesses of THE RETURN OF THE KING’s multiple endings after all the tension was released. While I may not be as excited to see THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG as I was to see THE TWO TOWERS, I am confidant that if I’m alive on earth- I’ll be in line to see it the first week of release.
(NOTE: Peter Jackson introduced a new technology with this release that is generating a bit of controversy. Some theatres that made the investment are showing THE HOBBIT in a 48 frame-per-second format that is twice the industry standard. The idea is to make everything sharper, more real- more like looking through a window than a lens. Some people love it, some do not. Even though it is supposed to make moving objects less blurry, some folks complain it gives them a headache, or makes the live actors look very separate from their computer-generated surroundings. The effect seems magnified in IMAX where a much larger percentage of people than usual are leaving early and asking for a refund. While it seems intuitive to me that 48 fps beats 24 fps, my local theatre showed it the old-fashioned way, so I cannot comment, though I am very curious to see for myself!)
© Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kevin Paul Keelan and lastcre8iveiconoclast with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.