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“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” had very high expectations as a cousin of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. While it may not have met these high expectations, the first installment in the Hobbit trilogy is still a visually stunning, action packed adventure with an extraordinary cast and quite a bit of charm.
The story begins in a familiar location with friends from the previous trilogy. Bilbo Baggins sits down at a desk in his to write a narrative addressed to his adoptive heir, Frodo, about a grand journey that made him who he is today. The film then begins to recount how young Bilbo (played by Martin Freeman) came to be enlisted by a wizard by the name of Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as the final member of his and the dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield’s (Richard Armitage) company of dwarves to travel to the their now threatened mountain home on the Lonely Mountain. After a home invasion incited by Gandalf and a meeting about the planned quest, Bilbo reluctantly agrees to assist the dwarves in reclaiming their dwelling from the dragon, Smaug.
And so begins the awe-inspiring journey to the Lonely Mountain. Along the way, the party encounters menacing creatures that try to capture, eat, or otherwise bring harm to prevent the dwarves from pressing forward. The first of these threats are goblins. These large, dim-witted creatures are completely computer generated which is quite impressive given the number of composite shots they appear in, usually in direct contact with live-action actors. The Great Goblin, the king of the goblins alone is quite a special effects marvel to behold when you can see the fine detail in his skin texture and the life-like movement of his many rolls of fat produced by his erratic motions. In addition to goblins, orcs and their cat-like attack animals are also on a mission to stop the dwarves from reaching their destination. The orcs engage directly with the dwarves, Bilbo and Gandalf which makes for some intense close combat scenes.
Also met along the way by Bilbo is a recognizable face, Gollum (Andy Serkis). As this is Bilbo’s first encounter with Gollum, this interesting exchange is highlighted in the movie. The dialogue between Gollum and Bilbo is witty and humorous as Gollum’s split personalities play a prominent role in the scene. Bilbo finds himself lost alone below the underground goblin fortress and encounters Gollum who, at first does not notice Bilbo. Bilbo picks up a small gold ring dropped unknowingly by Gollum and places it in his pocket. Despite attempting to remain undetected by Gollum, Bilbo is eventually confronted directly by Gollum. After arguing with himself, Gollum agrees to show Bilbo the way out if Bilbo can win a game of riddles. The challenge goes on for a few rounds until Gollum recognizes that his precious ring is missing and deduces that Bilbo must have stolen it. Bilbo makes a run for it through the caverns and happens to find the direction out, but before making it out, is still in hot pursuit by Gollum. Bilbo is finally cornered by Gollum, but remained hidden, and just as Gollum is about to discover him, Bilbo accidentally slips on the ring and learns of its power. While invisible, Bilbo makes his escape and Gollum is left in the caverns, now ringless.
The challenge goes on for a few rounds of one another asking riddles of the other until Gollum recognizes that his precious ring is missing and deduces that Bilbo must have stolen it. Bilbo makes a run for it through the caverns and happens to find the direction out, but before making it out, is still in hot pursuit by Gollum. Bilbo is finally cornered by Gollum but hidden, and just as Gollum is about to discover him, Bilbo accidentally slips on the ring and learns of its power. While invisible, Bilbo makes his escape and Gollum is left in the caverns, now ringless.
The scenery and locations are simply stunning and when viewed in a high frame rate theater. The attention to detail that is warranted for a movie shot in 48 frames per second is higher than any production in the past because each and every nuance becomes perfectly visible on the massive screen in high frame rate. The result: intensely elaborate sets, meticulously applied makeup, and incredibly realistic computer generated characters.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is far from a disappointment. Each member of the cast, the photographic direction, the visual effects, and the artistic direction all contribute to the overall sense of wonder that each of The Lord of the Rings films is known for. This is the exciting first installment of a new trilogy which surely left many moviegoers eagerly awaiting the next.