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‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ proves worthy prequel

Image used under fair use doctrine
Image used under fair use doctrine

In a hole in the ground there lived Martin Freeman. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

And indeed if there was someone born to play J.R.R Tolkien’s famed hobbit Bilbo Baggins, it is Martin Freeman. The British actor is best known for his roles as Tim in the British (original) version of The Office and Dr. Watson in the superb BBC series Sherlock. Both characters are similar on a superficially personal level to Bilbo; both Watson and Tim are often reluctant heroes, Bilbo being the ultimate realization of that trope.

Much has been made of The Hobbit’s groundbreaking cinema technologies — 48 fps and 3D more on par with Avatar than Clash of the Titans — but because theaters in Columbia don’t really go for that stuff, I can only verify that the film looks great at 2D and regular speed. The Lord of the Rings-like sweeping vistas and giant underground caverns are all there, and quite frankly, it seems a little repetitive after a while, but it’s the same sort of repetitiveness one gets at the Lourve when looking at great art; it’s all beautiful, but it’s all so beautiful that nothing quite stands out. It doesn’t help that the arc of the first Hobbit is remarkably similar to The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The hobbit reluctantly ventures out of the Shire, fights some stuff, tries to go over a mountain, fails, then goes under the mountain and fights goblins. Literally. Goblins are in both.

Granted, that’s giving An Unexpected Journey a bit of a short shrift. Alongside the wonderful Martin Freeman, by far my favorite character to watch, are Ian McKellen as Gandalf and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Both of these characters lend a completely different energy to the film, despite Gandalf being a major player in LOTR. The Hobbit is smaller scale, more personal and more gray, and overall just feels less epic. That might sound like a bad thing, but I think it works — the characters in The Hobbit, short of the ridiculous Radagast, are far more rounded and actually feel like real people. By some miracle, nearly all the dwarves are distinguishable from each other, and this really lends a sense of solid craft and magic to the film.

The internal conflicts between once allied factions — dwarves and elves — give The Hobbit a more contemporary feel akin to A Game of Thrones by R. R. Martin or First Law by Joe Abercrombie.

And speaking of R. R. Martin, if there’s one thing he and director Peter Jackson have in common, it’s bloat. I don’t mind bloat that much; I read A Feast For Crows in about two days. But that doesn’t mean it makes for a particularly engaging film, and The Hobbit drags at times, often when it’s trying to ramp up the tension via Wargs. Jackson got a new editor for this movie and it shows: guys, we know orcs riding wolves is awesome, but seriously. Once after every exposition dump is a little much.

I feel like I’ve complained too much and made this movie sound bad. This is not the case. The Hobbit is a superb film and despite its length, it’s the one I’d choose to see — yes, over both Django Unchained and Les Miserables — this holiday season. It has the epic fantasy feel only Peter Jackson can muster, and with a cast more varied and interesting than LOTR, I’d say this is a movie to watch.

By Adam Schoelz

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