The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
By Bryan Mero

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) was a different type of hobbit growing up. Always wondering off looking for new things, but after growing up his adventurous spirit had gone dormant. This is until Gandalf the Wizard (Ian McKellen) and thirteen dwarves show up at his house for dinner and invite him to be the fourteenth member of their group. Their quest entails a trip across Middle Earth to the Lonely Mountain where a dragon has taken over the dwarves’ home. Bilbo is hesitant but joins the motley crew on this “Unexpected Journey.”

For those of you familiar with the Lord of the Rings books and movies, then you already know that The Hobbit was the first book of the series. As a prequel, this movie works on so many levels. For those who missed the LOTR movies, this would be a great place to jump in and hang on. The Hobbit starts nice and slow just like the life we’ve come to know in the Shire. You’ll find yourself in Bilbo’s home for the first 40 minutes or so with lots of eating, singing and talking about their upcoming journey. I’ve read some reviews that said this was slow and boring, but really, it is just a way for the audience to really get a sense of who Bilbo is, his lifestyle and why this is such a big deal for him to even take a first step out of his comfortable hobbit hole.

Once Bilbo is on his way the action hardly stops. We do get to catch our breath from time to time and visit familiar places and faces we’ve known to love in the LOTR movies. There are also a few references to the animated feature of The Hobbit which was a nice touch. I won’t spoil it here. Perhaps we can have a nice discussion about the similarity to the book, the cartoon and this movie at some later time.

I was fortunate to see The Hobbit on the IMAX screen in 3D and in the new faster frame format of 48fps (frames per second). This is twice the speed of normal film and at the beginning you can really tell the difference. There is certain crispness to the higher frame rate which is almost like comparing a regular TV signal to that of high definition. Add on the 3D and your looking more into the screen than just watching a flat image. With that said, I’m sure the normal frame rate without 3D glasses would still have just the same impact as the movie draws you in and leaves you hanging for more at the end. As for those reports of feeling sick in the 3D high frame rate, there is no more than usual in a 3D movie. By the end of the movie I was very comfortable with both the sharpness and the 3D effects.

It is time to order your tickets and put on your cloak for a journey that will feel familiar and yet has its own uniqueness. This is a movie that has more humor than the LOTR films. It is OK to laugh at Bilbo’s bumbling or the dwarves’ silliness or just a look from Gandalf. It also has your orcs, wargs, trolls and goblins to round out the darkness that still lurks in Middle Earth. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the book primarily as a fairy tale for children but don’t be fooled. There are enough monsters and scary situations in this movie to keep the little ones at home. I’d say that children under 10 should stay at home. We had a little girl at our screening who was crying while leaving the theater. Teens and adults will thoroughly enjoy the action, revelations and lessons learned. I left the theater hungry for more! If you’re a LOTR fan already this will satisfy you and if you’ve just decided to jump on the trail, there is no better place than starting with The Hobbit!

p.s. Don’t drop your “precious”…you never know who might pick it up.

UPDATE: Since this review there's been two other movies and neither has been as good as the first. With that said, I think those two extra movies have overshadowed The Hobbit - Unexpected Journey and has made it feel not as good as when I first saw it. Now we are finding out that Peter Jackson had barely any time to prepare for this series and it shows. I wish they would have kept it to two movies and that is saying somethig because I'm a huge Hobbit fan. You'd think I'd want to see more but not in this case. I'll watch this movie and then go back and watch the LOTR trilogy...still the best fantasy movies ever made.


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