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Ok, so Peter Jackson (director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) has grit, panache and technical brilliance on par with Robert Zemeckis (who incidentally produced Mr. Jackson's American debut, The Frighteners). He pushed The Lord of the Rings (LOTR), a difficult visual spectacle to make in the first place, into cinematic existence regardless of perilous financial consequences – and in turn, singlehandedly boosted New Zealand's cinema-economy a notch or ten.

Now, in revisiting The Hobbit, an LOTR prelude with a stereotypical premise of killing a mean and nasty dragon, his tech genius may have gone overboard. While I do not have issues with The Hobbit's dilated three movie breakup (the source material is 278 pages by the way), or its first part's leisurely running time (which LOTR movie is less than three hours, I ask you?), my only beef is with two of the film's technical calls.

Shot on digital, with a healthy quota of Red Epics, all set to capture at 48 frames a second, the visual quality (which I can only estimate, because we won't be seeing it in 48 fps), will be distractingly real. Ultra Hi-Def, crisp and annoyingly real; details, warranted or otherwise, would spring into focus, and their fidelity would be visually jarring.

Change is good, but only when it doesn't wreck foundations. Cinema has trained our eyes to familiarise movement of 24 frames as cinematic. Let's just stick with that for the moment and not turn everything into a videogame or an HDTV experience, shall we?

With this little snag out of the way, let me tell you, the aggregate number The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has at Metacritic is pure codswallop.

Grand in parts, Mr. Jackson's reverent attention to detail, character build-up and cinematic pump-ups are stark-maddening. Yes, this is a positive review, but only because An Unexpected Journey warrants it.


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With the LOTR trilogy, Mr. Jackson had to adapt an already self-zealous material into a product of equal cinematic ostentatiousness. Nitpicking and adapting elements served their purposes and ultimately bagged 17 Oscars and 2.9 billion at the box-office. That was then, but as history tells us, Oscars and box office make a deadly combination.

Nine years later, with The Hobbit, and An Unexpected Journey, Mr. Jackson has autonomy to play around. Creative decisions amalgamate with veneration, as new faces or old references spring-up with uncanny timing in the most naturalistic of fashions. The resulting splendour is still as enthralling as Howard Shore's returning score. And it works only because the adventure, by itself, is of a more orthodox nature.

As I said before, An Unexpected Journey is a revisit to preluding Middle Earth grounds. Bilbo Baggins, the yarn-weaver and chronicler played by Ian Holmes in the first trilogy (and briefly at the beginning of this movie), is 60 years younger. Back then, we see that he has a Frodo-esque all-embracing quality to him.

But these are the olden days. The pastures of Shire and the native hobbit village are greener and there are no demonic horse riders or glowering retinas near Mount Doom (that will come later).

The chief danger in The Hobbit is Smaug, a ruthless dragon that crippled the Dwarf kingdom’s gold-ridden home and took residence. Aimless and defeated, years later, a variegated band of 13 gather at Bilbo’s residence with Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan back in a drag that has never seen a washing machine), and Bilbo is emotionally conned into an adventure.

There are other dangers though: Angry rock giants, triple-sized trolls, gruff orcs and man-eating wolves who look like recasts from the last Twilight movie; yes a lot of things in Middle Earth need anger management and people skills. Still, these are the least of the lot's worries.

Politics, group affiliation and indifferences spring up, but only for a scene or two. Galadriel, Saruman and Elrond (Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee and Hugo Weaving) – and in an expertly weaved in prologue, Frodo (Elijah Wood) – serve dual purposes: One, of establishing roots, and two, of educing fanboy giddiness (well, mostly fanboy giddiness).

Even though these additions strengthen An Unexpected Journey's bonds with the LOTR movies, it is the screenplay by Mr. Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and one-time director candidate Guillermo del Toro that commands rapt attention.


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Spectacles happen, at times concurrently. Wailing action sequences are impeded by sound effects, sweeping music or screaming war cries by creatures of motion capture and computer generated pixels (the breezing camera work is again by two time LOTR Oscar winner Andrew Lesnie).

But then again, this is routine for cinema because computer generated horrors and myths tend to happen on-screen more often than good human drama.

With Mr. Jackson, the upshot may look slightly bloated, but it is never yawn inducing. Almost every predicament, leading to the intense pre-finale riddle game with Gollum (Andy Serkis, excellently picking up his Oscar-worthy performance laid out in LOTR), is right on the money.

As a younger Bilbo, Martin Freeman is an apt replacement for Frodo. And while he doesn't have a Sam Gamgee-like associate taking his back, (and that some of the Dwarfs don't get moments to flash their characters just yet), his strenuous relationship with Thorin (Richard Armitage), makes for a different yet substantial substitute.

Although it is difficult to imagine Dwarfs as characters of kingly majesty and authority (as excellently typicalised by John Rhys-Davies’ Gimli), Mr. Armitage's war-torn king-in-making and his emotional baggage, have no problem being a proxy for Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn.

Thorin's quest may be of a lower-scale than Aragorn's, but the only disadvantage I see working against Mr. Jackson is the allure of championing what is cinematically unexplored – and that too in vivid 3D.

Middle Earth works quite well without a live television-esque sheen, Mr. Jackson. I think you, of all people, should know that.

Released by Newline Cinema, MGM, Warner Bros. and Geo Films, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13. Dozens of fantasy digital creatures die without blood-loss; then again, who'd want to stay in the way of an angry Dwarf in the first place.

Email feedback and queries to Dawn.com's editorial team, or visit our contact page

Despite living movies 24/7 (http://kamranjawaid.com), the writer is still truly, madly, deeply in love with cinema; the root cause of this anomaly requires further clinical trials.

He tweets @kamranjawaid

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (22) Closed

Jan 01, 2013 07:29am
WOW must watch on imax 48 hrf
Jan 02, 2013 03:05am
This was Peter Jacksons re-write of the Hobbit.. I went to see the Hobbit brought to life in film. The Main villain in the movie is a creation of Jacksons, he's completely changed the story to include that plot. The rest of the movie is great, but adding to one of the greatest works of literary fiction of all time is just wrong.
Jan 01, 2013 03:26pm
i think that is a good point, its to much of a difference from the LOTR series, the orc is a little too much but still a great movie
Jan 01, 2013 08:38am
It was boring thru half of the movie. It would have been much better if it was half the length. There is no comparison to the Lord of the Rings Movies or Harry Potter which were GREAT.
Jan 01, 2013 03:18pm
it was a great movie but to break it into three parts i think is insane, the movie will be 8 to 9 hours long
Dec 30, 2012 12:43pm
I thought it was creative aspirations to make it big. Imagine how small an adventure it would be if the movie was adapted as is without expanding on certain points.
Regar Degar
Dec 30, 2012 11:06am
Just say it the movie is a horrible misrepresentation of the book. It is trying to make links where there wer none.
Dec 30, 2012 04:45am
"Creative decisions amalgamate with veneration," This is what's wrong with critics these days. Lose the thesaurus and speak the language.
Dec 29, 2012 07:06pm
Nice article..logically written ..thankyou
Dec 30, 2012 10:14pm
Both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit could be a 15 minute movie. You place Frodo on an eagle, fly to the volcano, drop the ring and end of story. Similar can be done with the Hobbit.
Dec 31, 2012 11:06am
failing to find Frodo the Eagle can always drop you...
Dec 31, 2012 03:34am
I can't help but disagree. I have read the book and also watched the movie. Although, Jackson tries to stretch the movie as much, it doesn't make it awful or boring. As for technical details, change is really good. It is futile to compare it with LOTR... that was decade ago.
Sam Singlar
Dec 30, 2012 10:06am
One sentence out of a long review. Man you are ruthless Mark :p
Sam Singlar
Dec 30, 2012 10:07am
Good review by the critic. Timely as well.
John Smith
Dec 31, 2012 01:03am
Even if the movie is a misrepresentation of the book, it is still a beautiful narrative, both for the eyes and the heart. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it and I see no reason to complain.
Dec 31, 2012 12:44am
Sorry. Ruthless is not in my nature, but one should not have to wonder what is meant when a writer tries too hard to show depth of vocabulary. Oh, well.
Dec 31, 2012 07:30am
And like to many others, a doubter speaks. Go watch a 30 minute cartoon and a chapter from a pre-school book. That's sounds more like your thing.
Jan 01, 2013 06:18pm
I do agree it was disheartening to find out that the main villain was an animation. However, given the exaggerated and in-depth idea behind it there is no way they could have made a costume that would have satisfied the height needed, the detail and the swift movements of the orc. It would have moved too awkwardly if it was all a costume.
Dec 31, 2012 06:48am
This review is a lot like the movie - took 3 hours to comprehend and I had nothing to take away at the end.
Jan 01, 2013 06:02pm
Thank you! If people can't take away anything from The Hobbit book, let alone the movie, a story of adventure, sacrifice, friendship and learning to have faith and push the boundaries of your comfort zone and eventually learn to step outside of it, I feel very bad for you and truly hope your comprehension and understanding of good literature and text improves.
Jan 01, 2013 05:54pm
Judging by your evaluation of the harry potter movies you probably haven't read the books which were very different from the movie and in no way capture the mesmerizing and unforgettable plot of the book. Also, you cannot judge a movie by it's length. Your evaluation of the length of the movie bothering you also leads me to believe that you didn't read the book The Hobbit, which if you had you would have realized though the book may be 278 pages, it is almost all summarized. The book very rarely goes into detail, making it absolutely impossible for the movie to put all the action PLUS the detail into 2 hours or less. And you must care to take into account that if Tolkien had never written The Hobbit you never would have gotten your precious Lord of the Rings movies. My advice, start reading the books before you go leaving arrogant comments for movies you don't know the story behind.
Dec 31, 2012 10:02pm
My only problem with the movie is that after all the money Jackson made on the LOR trilogy, he could have given us more real people with more elaborate make up and quality sets instead of CGI everything. It just doesn't give you a profound effect when the main orc villian is a cartoon.