The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey


I’ve never been a fan of 3D. I find that the use of it darkens the screen, blurs the movement and invites all manner of awful gimmickry while – and this is the main point –  never allowing the viewer to feel at all immersed in the action. It’s just lots of pointing, falling and things flying out at the audience. If anything, it does the opposite of immersing and rather acts as a barrier. You are always acutely aware of the mechanics of the film. So I was hoping that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey would offer a breakthrough, in that was shot at 48 Frames a second, twice that of a normal movie. Would this be the tool that made 3D crisper, clearer and more bearable?

Well, the superfast HD3D displayed in Peter Jackson’s latest offering was certainly clear, but it did nothing to immerse. In fact, it was even more jarring than normal 3D. Many scenes looked horrible and the visuals were so distracting that I found myself not paying attention to the plot in the first act of the movie while I adjusted to what was bombarding my eyes. Simply, it didn’t look like a film in the traditional sense, but more like a computer game. At times I took my special edition Hobbit glasses off and watched it in a blurry state, just for some respite. When you compare this to how brilliantly gritty and… well… film-like The Dark Knight Rises looked, there is only one winner and it’s Christopher Nolan. To be honest, if 48-frames-a-second 3D is the future of cinema, I’d rather stay at home.

The other problem with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it is about 30 minutes too long. It clocks in at little under three hours and, despite it being the set-up of the trilogy, there was plenty of fat that could have been trimmed. Like the first Lord of the Rings film, there was a heck of a lot of walking going on.

Length and jarring 3D aside, there are plenty of plus points to this adaptation of a story that most of us know well. The Office‘s Martin Freeman is excellent as Bilbo Baggins, as is Ian McKellen as Gandalf (incidentally, it’s hard to take McKellen seriously after that episode of Extras: “Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian, action… WIZARD YOU SHALL NOT PASS… Sir Ian, Sir Ian, Sir Ian”). Andy Serkis pops up as the amazingly animated Gollum too. Meanwhile, the wide shots of New Zealand, during which the 3D was at its least annoying, are truly breathtaking. And the final half-an-hour of the film is fantastic, as a climactic battle takes place involving dwarves, orcs, eagles, cliff edges, fire, swords and all sorts. It was edge-of-the-seat stuff that bodes well for the next two movies.

Just as the first LOTR film served to set things up for the follow-up (which was the best of the trilogy), hopefully this will allow the next instalment to really get the ball rolling. In the meantime, in establishing characters, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey does an adequate job while punctuating the narrative with a few exciting set-pieces.

See it in 2D though.

Review by Bobby Townsend