Last night we attended the midnight showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. (now on Amazon)  I have been excited about this movie for the past 7 years and have been listening to the soundtrack all week in preparation   We chose to see the High Frame Rate 3D version of the film because that was how director, Peter Jackson, wanted it to be seen.  With our group was children’s artist Parker Jacobs.  We passed the time watching him draw his Daily Doodle.  His children’s book The Goon Holler Guidebook will be the subject of an upcoming review.
   If you are new to the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings story, Bilbo Baggins, Martin Freeman, is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Ian McKellen, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield, Richard Artimage. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever.
   If you are already a fan, you will be pleased with at additional story aspects outside the original novel.  In the book of The Hobbit the narrative is mostly from Bilbo’s point of view.  We learn from The Lord of the Rings and it’s many appendices and other writings that there is actually a lot going in the world at large.  I learned a lot from playing The Lord of the Rings Online.  It is free and goes into a lot of detail on the Dwarf back-story   Putting this in the movie really shows how essential their quest is, and there is more at stake here than just a pile of Gold.  You may need to go back  back and re-read or ask a nerd friend about some of it though because they don’t always give enough information to someone who is new to the story, or a little rusty like myself.
   Seeing the High Frame Rate version was visually stunning!  I am not a huge fan of 3D.  It is often done poorly with the action blurred or so gimmicky it it detracts from the immersion. At certain times the refresh rate seemed to be off a bit and slower actions looked they were at 1.5x speed.  It was a little distracting at first I admit.  That might have just been my theatre though.  I’d love to hear your experiences in HFR.  Where the HFR 3D really gets put to task is in the action sequences.  It was amazing how crisp and clear the fight choreography was.  Often battle scenes in movies are at such a rapid pace you get the idea there is fighting, but it is never really clear what is going on.  Not the case here.  As a result there is a much stronger emotional investment in the action because you can clearly see the danger our characters are in.  The technology is not perfect yet but worth the price of admission.  I would probably skip the 3D if you didn’t intend to see HFR, or it isn’t available. 
   I never cared much for the Dwarves in the books.  I wan’t sure how they would make us care about each one of them.  Especially Thorin, who was a bit of a jerk in the books.  The cinematic directing really helped show his character.  He is always first into the fray and often put himself at risk to help the members of his company.  In the trailer he asks for “Loyalty, Honor, and a Willing Heart.  As the adventure progresses we see he also gives that back to to his company in return.  
   A lot of clever work was done to help individualize the other 12 dwarves.  Although I still could not name them all, I can distinguish their character traits.  Giving them tiny, yet revealing lines here and there helps makes this distinction.    
   I am not a huge fan of the overuse of CGI.  Parker and I were talking about this before the movie started.  Even though Chewbacca’s face doesn’t move much, he is so much more believable than Jar Jar Binks because he is physical.  I see a Chewbacca costume and I think Chewbacca!  I see a Jar Jar costume and I think, oh a Jar Jar costume.  

   In the Fellowship of the Ring Gollum looked completely unbelievable.  The character design for the Two Towers was a 100% improvement over the first film, but still Gollum wasn’t real yet for me.  Now a decade later they have perfected it!  My suspension of disbelief was at an all time high.  I was second guessing myself.  The Riddles in the Dark scene was wonderfully done.  Martin Freeman (Bilbo) and Andy Serkis (Gollum) played well against each other.  the emotional roller coaster as Bilbo comes upon a dangerous situation, to the lightheartedness of a game of riddles, you forget the mortal danger Bilbo is in.

  If you have seen any the Lord of the Rings films you will have a good idea of the content in store for you.  The Hobbit is void of coarse language and sexual content.  Although character do drink and smoke “pipe weed” and there is a reference to eating mushrooms.  The action is intense, but not overly graphic.  Heads to get chopped off though.  It might be a bit too much for younger audiences.  

   I don’t think there is much doubt that The Hobbit is going to be one of those movies that stands the test of time.  Not only is it visually stunning, but the themes of hope, honor, friendship are transcendent and meaningful to all of us.  When pressed about his desire to undertake his mission Gandalf’s response sums up the meaning of the movie. “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

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