Peter Jackson’s beloved Hobbits get mixed up in adventure, again, in the first installment of his new Middle Earth trilogy.
After much legal wrangling, delay, and doubt, The Lord of the Rings director has returned to JRR Tolkien‘s universe for more orc-slaying action. This time around it’s The Hobbit, a single-volume children’s book adapted into a sprawling trilogy. It’s long, it’s in 3-D, and it’s jam-packed with drarf-on-orc special effects. Here’s the top five reasons to take this Unexpected Journey.
1. The Action: The first 30 minutes might drag a bit as we’re introduced to nearly enough belching, ill-mannered dwarves to field an entire baseball roster. But once The Hobbit gets its hairy feet beneath it, it really moves. Whether it’s a wizard on a rabbit-sled drag-racing a pack of snarling werewolves, or a 73-year-old Sir Ian Mackellen, as Gandalf, cutting down Orcs like a bearded samurai, this movie sticks the landing on scenes with a high degree of difficulty.
2. My Precious: A motion-captured Andy Serkis returns as the iconic split personality Hobbit-turned-ringwraithe, Golum. Fans of The Hobbit cartoon (1977) will be familiar with the scene in which Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) falls down a crevice by an underground pool and unwittingly steals the Ring of Power from the demented Golum. Peter Jackson’s version draws from the cartoon – and the book – the scary intensity of Golum, and the fearful anxiety of his unpredictable behavior. Even hardcore fans will have a pit in their stomachs, unsure of whether Golum will bludgeon the lost hobbit to death, or simply help him on his way.
3. What the heck is 48 frames per second!?: The film’s biggest controversy is the new digital technology used actually shoot the movie. Classic films are essentially made from 24 still photos taken every second, producing the illusion of a “movie.” The Hobbit is photographed at twice that rate – allegedly producing twice the clarity. This may have a positive effect for jumbled 3-D action scenes with lots of digital hijinks, but it also adds clarity to images we don’t want clarified: the makeup on actors, sets built with plastic instead of wood. Filmmakers clearly have a new tool in their kit. Now they need to learn how to deploy it wisely.
4. Harmonizing Dwarves!: Anyone who has seen the The Hobbit trailer has heard the dolcet tones of “Misty Mountains Cold,” as sung with pitch-perfect harmony by the heroic dwarves – who are apparently as skilled as musicians as they are blacksmiths. The song’s mournful arrangement leaves behind the silliness of the film’s first act, and captures the grave solemnity that is the best part of the franchise’s mythology.
5. Digital Wizardy: On the plus-side for the 48-frames controversy, it doesn’t seem to subtract from scenes that are entirely animated. The Hobbit‘s action, as in the book, kicks off with an attack from the horrible dragon of legend, Smaug, who breathes down fire on the dwarf kingdom, but is never actually seen – that is until the film’s final shot when we get a teasing glimpse of the monster that will be central to the sequels. We don’t get to see much, but without spoiling it, I will say it’s convincing enough to make fans look forward to the concluding chapters of this magical new trilogy.