Peter Jackson is a geek-friendly filmmaker who graduated to blockbuster maestro status when he adapted J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy more than a decade ago, earning multiple Academy Awards and billions of dollars. He returns to Middle-earth with this month’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which has inspired much in the way of both anticipation and trepidation.
The first wave of professional critic reviews for An Unexpected Journey have hit the ‘Net – but do they confirm everyone’s best hopes, worst fears, or some mix of the two? Scroll on down to find out.
We’ve included informative excerpts from several reviews for the first installment in Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, which you can peruse through below (note: the film was screened in its native high frame rate 3D format for these journalists and reviewers):
There are several returning artists on the film, like Ian McKellen and Howard Shore and Andrew Lesnie, whose work is every bit as good as it was before, and I think for the most part, “Lord Of The Rings” fans are going to feel like this is a welcome return to Middle Earth. But there are enough uneven qualities this time around that i find myself astonished by the letter grade (B) I’m assigning the film. My hope is that the three films taken together will work better than this one does on its own, and that the pacing issues are not going to be ongoing as the series continues.
“Again and again” is also the film’s biggest issue. On a consistent basis, it’s almost as if Jackson forgets he has two more films to release and is forced to pump the brakes. Tangents pop out of nowhere, dialogue scenes are stretched into infinity, and a familiar structure of capture followed by rousing escape, is consistently repeated… Overall The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a lot of fun. Fans of Jackson, Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings films will enjoy it. However, it’s long and uneven, which keeps it from reaching the heights of Jackson’s first three Middle-Earth films.
While it will be too formulaic and familiar to some (and certainly non-fans won’t be won over), ‘The Hobbit’ is another grand achievement from director Peter Jackson. While this distended picture threatens to buckle under the weight of its own self-importantance, Peter Jackson clearly believes he’s earned the right to preamble and make nearly three hour long tent poles each time out of the gate. And the last two acts of ‘The Hobbit’ are simply a non-stop action-adventure rollercoaster that is just as engaging and winning as anything in the director’s previous trilogy.
It takes Jackson a long time to build up a head of steam, but he delivers the goods in this final stretch, which is paralleled by the hitherto ineffectual Bilbo beginning to come into his own as a character. One of Tolkien’s shrewdest strategies in writing The Hobbit and designing it to appeal to both youngsters and adults over the decades was making Bilbo a childlike grown-up who matures and assumes responsibilities he initially perceives are beyond him. Freeman, who at first seems bland in the role, similarly grows into the part, giving hope that the character will continue to blossom in the two forthcoming installments.
What the 48 frame-per-second projection actually means is flat lighting, a plastic-y look, and, worst of all, a strange sped-up effect that makes perfectly normal actions—say, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo Baggins placing a napkin on his lap—look like meth-head hallucinations… That’s not the only challenge faced by The Hobbit [as] the expectations and filmmaking itself have matured but the storytelling is more juvenile. And where the Rings trilogy had weight, The Hobbit is all wigs and slapstick and head-lopping violence unsuitable for children—who are the only audience who won’t be bored to tears.
[The] decision to film at a higher frame rate really ruins the movie. You do adjust to it eventually, but almost every scene requires some sort of adjustment and the human brain can’t do that and escape into a fantasy world at the same time… For the most part, the writing and storytelling are there, but the visual decisions make it hard to appreciate any of it especially during the action sequences… It’s almost as if no one involved with making the movie put it up on a screen to see how anything might look, because that’s the only reason why so much of the movie could look so very, very bad.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has set a high bar for the next two installments, but if the Lord of the Rings trilogy is any indication, I fully believe that bar will be surpassed. Moving forward, I’d like to see the films become a bit more serious, especially since Bilbo is now in possession of a certain ring and all the grave consequences that portends. It would also be a more gradual transition into the Lord of the Rings trilogy and would allow new fans to mature along with the entire six-film arc, much like the Harry Potter films so expertly achieved.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey almost attains greatness yet despite so many moments of epic fun, greatness remains just out of its reach. This is a very good and entertaining movie even if it never quite recaptures the wonder or mystique of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Flaws and all, though, it was just nice to be back in Middle-earth again.
So, in summation:
- The 48 frames per second (fps) projection is jarring and distracting.
- Jackson’s sense of cinematic storytelling has matured on a technical level.
- Excess dialogue, story tangents and foundation-laying for future installments weaken the first act.
- Things pick up significantly after the heavy-lifting of the first hour, giving rise to action-packed and thrilling fantasy adventure.
Overall, it sounds as though The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does indeed suffer from being stretched out to serve as the first chapter in a new trilogy. Nonetheless, it’s good enough to suggest that future installments will improve in terms of pacing and structure – though, that’s not guaranteed, seeing how both the second and third movies could have even more story padding.
Sandy Schaefer blogs at Screen Rant.