Movie review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

STARRING: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
THE SKINNY: The dwarves are driven from their homeland by the dragon Smaug. Dwarf prince Thorin (Armitage) gathers a small company of his fellows and, together with the wizard Gandalf (McKellen) and the hobbit Bilbo (Freeman), sets out to reclaim his home. Along the way, they meet countless perils. RATING: PG13

By JASON JOHNSON

The Hobbit runs for nearly three hours, but I wanted it to go on and on.Middle-earth, for all its perils - dragons, orcs, trolls, beards - is a land that I prefer to our real world.

After all, there are no traffic jams there.

The opening sequence, in which the dragon Smaug ravages the dwarf homeland in pursuit of gold, absolutely floored me.

"Wow," I said.

Every shot composed by director Jackson looks as if it could be the cover of a best-selling fantasy novel.

It's just epicness piled upon epicness.

While most films are shot at 24 frames per second, Jackson went with 48, giving The Hobbit a very unusual vibe.

It doesn't look like a normal movie. There's absolutely no graininess or blurriness or softness - it's super vivid.

How strange to see a fantasy world that appears somehow more real than reality.

Freeman does a wonderful job as Bilbo, truly managing to come across as a non-human creature that nevertheless oozes humanity.

McKellen is predictably commanding as Gandalf.

The real revelation for me, though, is Armitage as dwarf prince Thorin.

Though Thorin is but a wee fellow, he emerges as one of the greatest heroic characters I've ever seen.

As much as it pains me to say it, he makes dwarves seem almost as cool as elves.

****½


By JOANNE SOH

Being a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's books, Jackson's Lord Of The Rings (LOTR) trilogy is naturally a delight.

And now, I'm able to relive those Middle-earth memories, mainly because Jackson kept the set pieces similar, though many a lot more majestic.

The Hobbit, being a children's book, offers a much lighter look into the events that bring about the dark wars in LOTR.

The dwarves are the life of the party. Even Gandalf is more humorous too.

In an early scene, Gandalf tells Bilbo that all good stories need embellishments. And Jackson certainly embellished his new project.

One of them is the much-talked-about 48 frames per second and 3-D technology. I'm sitting on the fence on this.

While the movie is super sharp and immersive - it felt like I'm watching a stage play with the actors up close - I'm not sure if I want my movies to be that real.

Also, some scenes didn't work, making the CGI look - ironically - pretty obvious and bad.

But Gollum certainly benefited for being in high-definition. He looks amazing! And the Riddles In The Dark segment is arguably the best in the 170-minute long film.

What drives The Hobbit isn't its fantastic visuals, but rather Freeman and Armitage's brilliant and absolutely powerful performances.

****½ 

THE CONSENSUS: Jackson again transports viewers back to Middle-earth, but it's the actors who will keep you wanting more from the fantasy world of J.R.R. Tolkien.

joannes@sph.com.sg

jjohnson@sph.com.sg


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