Review by Luke Whitmire
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey takes place sixty years before the events of The Lord of the Rings. The Rings trilogy was a dynamic, pulsating fantasy story that roused audiences, and changed the landscape for epic spectacles.
A brief history: The Hobbit, or There and Back Again—better known by its abbreviated title The Hobbit—is a children’s fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien. It was published on September 21, 1937 to wide critical acclaim. Tolkien continued the saga in 1954 with The Lord of the Rings. These novels remain popular and are recognized as a classic in children’s literature.

The first installment of Peter Jackson’s new Middle-Earth trilogy follows a benevolent and self-effacing hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who follows and cavorts with a company of dwarves on an enterprise to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor.
Jackson brings back the visual luxuriance he so brilliantly created for the first trilogy into An Unexpected Journey, with spectacular landscapes, epic battles and ferocious goblins and trolls. The first act is a wonderful 45-minute setup with Bilbo trapped in his home with 13 unwelcome dwarves, who stuff food down their gullet and sing like fanboys. Young Bilbo really gets to know this gaggle of small roughnecks as they boorishly take over his home. In keeping close to the children’s format from the source material, The Hobbit is more comical. But I will say this: Jackson has turned Tolkien’s flat writing into something more whimsical and engaging. freeman
 The leader of the group is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), a more glowering, wise and ambivalent simulacrum of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn in the Rings trilogy. He leads the company to a kingdom called the Lonely Mountain, a place where a dragon now reigns with ultimate power.
For this pilgrimage, Thorin enlists Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who’s responsible for recruiting Bilbo, whom he advertises to the dwarves as being a dexterous burglar. Bilbo doesn’t have such a skill, nor the fearlessness for the mortal adventure the journey entails. Bilbo does become the diminutive hero and the emotional anchor for the company.

Martin Freeman shows why Jackson was so determined to get him for the lead role: his inflections, mannerisms, sophistication and innocence make the character a far more entertaining hero than Elijah Wood’s Frodo. Freeman  is the core essence of this film.

When the pilgrimage finally gets going, the story journeys out of the light-hearted and into the frightening. Jackson immerses us with ethereal scenery, epic battle sequences with fierce trolls, goblins, giant stone transformers and exciting encounters with elves and wizards. The film stands on a firmer foundation in the second and third acts when embellishing the book’s thrilling fantasy action into mesmerizing live action.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEYThe only time the film journeys into the soporific is when the company enters Rivendale, the celestial elf kingdom. This scene is profuse with exposition and rumination between Gandalf, the angelic Galadriel (Cate Blanchet), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving). But it’s great to see these iconic characters together once again.
Diehard fans will feel connected to the previous trilogy again when Gollum confronts Bilbo in a remote cave that’s a riddle-fused scene. Andy Serkis does another compelling job performing Gollum. Performance capture from Weta Digital once again renders a capricious and ominous Gollum to flawless standards.
The most talked about vanguard in The Hobbit is the introduction of the new and contentious 48-frames-per-second digital cinematography that has been integrated to enhance the lavish world, as opposed to the industry standard 24 frames-per-second. The 48-frame rate solves the inherent stuttering effect of film that occurs whenever the camera pans or when horizontal movement crosses the camera. Consequently, the 48-frame format renders everything artificial and cheap, like watching a home movie. However, the higher frame rate makes everything crystal clear and smoother whenever the camera dollies or pans. I found the 48-frame rate to be too vivid and disconcerting for my taste. The HFR reduces everything to mere props and actors. The costumes and weapons really lack the heaviness, the houses and castles look like dioramas, and the lighting never looks natural, losing the cinematic nuance. It’s a new technological advancement that has hurt the aesthetic quality. I had the opportunity to view the film in both frame rates the same night and I prefer the standard 24 fps format. The new HFR will be screened at Roughly 450 theaters around the country.
Bottom Line:
Besides some slow scenes, Jackson still crafts a brilliant, beautiful and compelling adaptation. This journey has the same rousing momentum and emotional impact as the Rings trilogy. I’m elated to say this truly is a briskly engaging fantasy adventure with grandiloquence and heart. I’m ready for December 14th, 2013!
* * * * *
5 out of 5 stars
Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy violence