Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen
Oh, god, this was pretty bad. I suppose I'll start off by saying that be sure you see it in 48 frames-per-second. I know there's a lot of controversy and most people are against the 48 FPS, but I'll be honest, the 48 FPS was the most interesting thing about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It definitely looks beautiful and I think it's safe to assume that the doubled frame rate is the future of film. It is pretty exciting to see it so crisp and reality-like, it's like seeing a glimpse of films in the future. For that reason alone I'd tell you to go see The Hobbit.
Unfortunately, once the magic and excitement of the frame-rate wears off, you're left with a pretty damn mediocre film.
I should also say that I have yet to read any of Tolkien's books, so no comparisons will be made to the book. Also, I haven't watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy in a very long time, so there won't be much comparison between those (though there will be some).
The first film of a soon-to-be trilogy has very little to do with a Hobbit, despite its name, and instead mostly focuses on a gang of dwarves who seem like they'd fit better in a Snow White movie. The one Hobbit in here, Bilbo Baggins, takes the backseat in here and serves as a tag-along nuisance who contributes little to anything (though it's obvious he'll play a larger role in the next two films). They spend the film going on an adventure and being chased by Orcs.
From what I understand The Hobbit (the book) was very lighter in tone than the Lord of the Rings books. It definitely shows in the film. It's nowhere near as epic as LOTR, though it tries to be. It seems as if it were confused whether it wanted to be light-hearted or darkly epic, and instead tries (and fails) to be both. The dwarves are almost entirely used for comedic effect, their entire introductions playing like a slapstick. There's the burp jokes, the stereotypical fat dwarf, the groin hits, and two times in the beginning of the film I honestly wasn't sure whether or not I was watching a musical. Just look at this poster and tell me it doesn't look like some shitty comedy.
I understand that The Hobbit is trying to be more childlike, and on a certain level it achieves that, but I don't think that it really works in the film's favor. It's not funny, it's filled with mostly cheap humor; it's not epic or very exciting, in fact there were many parts that were boring. The few glimpses were got at large-scale battle scenes were really cool, but they only occupied a minute or so of the film's running time.
The pacing is awful; way too much exposition in the beginning and then just a jumbled mess in the second half trying to set up things for the next two films. Not to mention the numerous plot holes (the major one being how elder Bilbo is able to write the story when he was absent for many parts). The story never really got anywhere either (something that plagues a lot of first films in a trilogy). We start with at the beginning of an adventure and by the end we're still at the beginning.
The first 45-minutes of the film took place completely inside a Hobbit hole with a bunch of annoying dwarfs. It was possibly the most excruciating 45-minutes of my life and was only bearable because I was still interested with the 48fps technology and just how real everything looked. Luckily things picked up a bit once their journey finally began. But from as far as I can see the storyline just isn't very interesting.
There's no woman characters. Well there's one...who has a minor speaking role, but she's a church-like mother character. I guess it's really the source material to blame here and not the film.
A big problem I had was the way too frequent use of a deus ex machina device. Every time the dwarves are in trouble or are in a seemingly inescapable situation they are magic saved by Gandalf. It's just so boring and easy and if not for Gandalf all those idiot dwarfs and that useless hobbit would have been dead in seconds. Sticky situation? No problem, Gandalf will rescue everyone.
The ending was also extremely unsatisfying and anti-climactic.
For the most part the film looks really nice. The 48 frames-per-second helps it's visual appeal, the only problem being is that some parts are so realistic that they look very obviously fake and costumed. The 3-D was very subtle and well done. There is way more CGI use in here than in the LOTR trilogy. Way more. I've even heard this film be called The Hobbit Episode 1: Revenge of the Sith. Yeah, it's that bad. And the heavy CGI use really takes away from the magic of it all. It is, after all, supposed to be a magical story, but it just looks so fake and it detracts from your immersion and excitement and wonderment. You never look at the trolls for example and think how magical and impressive they are, because you know they were done completely with computers. I think the LOTR trilogy struck a nice balance between traditional effects and CGI, The Hobbit just overuses CGI.
The cast does a pretty good job, though nothing amazing. Ian McKellen as Gandalf is great as expected. Martin Freeman does just as good as Elijah Wood did playing the lead Hobbit (though I admittedly can't help but seeing a British office worker with pointy ears while watching this). As for the dwarfs I really don't have much to say...I kind of hated them all. Andy Serkis as Gollum will of course be viewed as a highlight of the film, which is true, it probably was my favorite scene. Gollum is creepy as ever and is probably the best looking CGI in the entire film. (The Stone Giant scene also looked pretty cool).
The soundtrack composed by Howard Shore is excellent, though much of it is taken from the LOTR films.
It's a very long movie, and it does feel long, but it doesn't feel as long as it actually is. There's a lot of slow, boring parts; and I admire Peter Jackson having slower parts that aren't just action, it's just unfortunate that the slow scenes aren't interesting. Hell, even the action scenes are pretty uninteresting. I couldn't care less about this Dwarf king and his feud with some pale Orc. I don't care! Both the dwarf and orc are so characterless.
On an unrelated note, did there seem to be an abundance of drug references and implications present? Not only the very direct mushroom one but they also seemed to imply that Gandalf is high as a kite the entire time.
I suspect that it's likely I may like the next two installments in the trilogy better being that this first one was largely plagued by what many firsts in trilogy are plagued by: setting things up. The only way I can recommend seeing this is if you are huge Tolkien fans or simply to witness the groundbreaking and stunning 48 frames-per-second. Otherwise it's one of the worst films of the year.