“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” tells the story of how Bilbo Baggins is hired by the wizard Gandalf the Grey to go along with 13 dwarves on a journey across Middle-earth in an attempt take back their home, Lonely Mountain, from Smaug the dragon. This film starts slow, but once it gets going, “An Unexpected Journey” is action and adventure until the end.
Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo, adding perfect timing and reactions to the dangerous and consistently changing settings around him. Freeman evidently displays Bilbo’s constant struggle between his desires for the normal and adventure. Richard Armitage’s Thorin is a far a more complex and interesting character than Aragon of “The Lord of the Rings.” Unlike Aragon, Thorin has character flaws and makes mistakes. He is bitter, untrusting and on a quest for revenge. Bilbo’s personality is the opposite of Thorin, and this allows for the two to grow because of each other. The audience sees and, in turn, connects with the evolution of both Thorin and Bilbo. Ian McKellen is his usual great self as Gandalf, bringing back the mixture of humility, wisdom, and wit we saw in “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.”
Director Peter Jackson loves innovation. The first LOTR trilogy used some of the newest technology of the time to create motion captured characters and bring them to life on the screen. Now, Jackson returns to making cinema technology history by shooting “The Hobbit” trilogy at 48 frames per second. Traditionally, movies are shot at 24 frames per second because this is the speed at which our eyes can see the illusion of movement. The purpose of the 48 fps is to add a sense of realism to the film. It also allows for less blurriness during action scenes when watching the movie in 3D.
The higher frame rate made for a different movie-going experience. Similar to the first time I watched a movie in 3D, seeing “An Unexpected Journey” at 48 fps took some getting used to, but after about 10 minutes I barely noticed a difference. Though, on wide panning shots and sometimes during fast-paced action, the screen became unsettling again. Overall, I did not mind the higher frame rate though I am skeptical of whether it will become the industry standard anytime soon. It looks like director James Cameron is already trying to top it by shooting Avatar 2 at 60 fps.
If you are going to “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” anticipating a movie just like “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, you may be disappointed. The prequel is lighter, sillier and often more fun than the original three movies. Even though the film carries a hefty run time just under three hours, when the credits started to roll I found myself not wanting it to end.
I am excited to see where this band of unlikely heroes goes next and what trials and ventures they partake in with the rest of the trilogy. If you are looking for a fun time that all ages can enjoy, then “An Unexpected Journey” is a good choice. And, if you want to have a unique movie going experience, try seeing it at 48 fps.