An event movie if ever there was one, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey rolls out across North America at midnight tonight, giving night owls the chance to pass 169 minutes in the company of Bilbo, Gandalf, Gollum, more than a dozen dwarves, and all manner of orcs, goblins, elves, and other magical (and not so magical) creatures.
Our own Jason Gorber provided a comprehensive overview in his review, starting with Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and then tackling The Hobbit itself:
So many elements echo the other films, from [Howard] Shore's fine score to the smallest details of production design. The world of Tolkien is pretty ageless, so to traffic in these worlds again is a far closer connection to the previous works than most other so-called "prequels." As an audience member, you immediately feel at home, as if no time has passed. It is at these moments of intimate connection to the greater whole that the film is most effective.
The film roughly follows the first third of the book, with a whole lot of additional material jammed in to flesh out the story. We get to see up to the Goblin King escape, including the famed "Riddles in the Dark" sequence ... [Martin] Freeman's casting is inspired, he's appropriately flustered when called for, but becomes steely and resolute when the moment arises.
The film also does a pretty remarkable job at offering strong characterization for the many dwarves - sure, some are played as mere background characters, but we do genuinely care about their quest in a way that isn't always the case in tellings of this story. Richard Armitage as Thorin is as regal as Aragorn proved to be, a character of sufficient complexity as to make him interesting.
(And here we'll pause to point you back to Jason's fine interview with Richard Armitrage.)
"The short version is this: If you hated the other films, there will be nothing more for you here. You'll find the characters tedious, the storyline predictable, the farcical elements too broad and the musical moments appalling. For the many, many fans of the original trilogy, however, you'll find an enormously comfortable setting, one that's easily the equal of the other films in the series."
As for myself, I continue to admire Jackson's ambition, without being enthralled by his artistry. J.R.R. Tolkien's original version of The Hobbit reads quite nicely and simply as a light-hearted children's story, in contrast to the darker themes explored in the trilogy. To make The Hobbit fit with Jackson's version of the trilogy, everything is taken much more seriously; the film is afflicted with a portentous tone that sucks the life out of too many scenes to count, undermined by dialogue that is declared grandly rather than spoken plainly. Whereas devoted fans and casual viewers may well revel in the continual battles of armies of interchangeable CGI creatures -- are those trolls, orcs, or goblins? -- the repetitive elements quickly becoming tiring.
Still, there's no denying that certain sequences in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey really are breathtaking. Jackson's vision may not be for everyone, but for those who are already inclined toward the material, the movie may well exceed expectations. Quoting again from Jason Gorber's review:
If you're willing to settle into the story, to be swept away by its scope and sense of wonder, and to fall for the travails of these characters, I think that you'll find something more satisfying than the usual run of sparkly Vamps, Wizarding adolescents and the heroics of the spandexed.
If you decide to see the movie, we'd love to hear what you thought. And did you try out the new, higher frame rate in 3D? (See Jason's detailed article for more on that.) Have your say in the comments!