The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ★★½

I wouldn't see another film projected at 48 fps if I were held at gunpoint. In the state of the art venue I saw The Hobbit, the film looked like it was being screened in fast-motion. It was distractingly cartoonish and never managed to trick the eye in the way 24 fps does.

Issues with the projection aside, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is deeply problematic despite the artistry of its production design, effects and sound work. This story is too episodic, tonally defunct and overloaded with action scenes to ever draw us in. Unable to create a relatable ensemble, Jackson and company rely on The Lord of the Rings nostalgia at every turn to keep us engaged. From Howard Shore's familiar musical themes to Cate Blanchett's unnecessary cameo, it's a reminder that the other films always felt more cohesive and accomplished than this ever does.

The nature of J.R.R. Tolkien's book is no small part of the problem. Overloaded with characters and featuring a death toll in the thousands as our heroes barely manage a scratch, it's hard to be involved when there's no hint of danger. An overuse of CGI and gimmicky 3D effects establish an aesthetic that matches a video game-like plot where characters survive against all probable odds. A scene involving rock monsters, for instance, looks stunning, but would clearly result in the death of every character if this has the slightest notion of reality. Even fantasy needs some credibility.

The high points here are Andy Serkis's return as Gollum and Martin Freeman's deadpan delivery of some solid one-liners. The low points include oafish musical numbers and undercooked villains that emphasize how segmented the story is.