The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ★★★★½

First of all, it's important to remember that "The Hobbit" was written as a children's book. It's a fantasy quest epic, where a wizard, a hobbit and a baker's dozen dwarves set out on a protracted road trip full of dangers. In many ways, it parallels the Lord of the Rings saga, even as it is a simpler precursor to it. Here an evil dragon is the ultimate villain in the place of Sauron...and the film takes its merry time getting to the end of the quest (in fact, two more episodes to come.)

That said, there has been an order of magnitude improvement in the techniques of film making since Jackson's original trilogy. Watching this film in 48 frame 3-D is a remarkable experience. In keeping with the quest adventure conventions, the film is a series of escalating action sequences, each one more harrowing than the last, with literally unprecedented depth and complexity of action and an imposing sound-scape and music track to match. Taken separately, each facet of production is excellent...together they mark a new high in big screen excitement.

Only, the story is still a simplistic children's story; and in between fabulous action episodes the film struggles to make its characters anything more than symbols. *Except* when Gollum enters the narrative near the end of the film in a scene between Andy Serkis's remarkable creation and Martin Freeman's well portrayed Bilbo Baggins. At last the script provides a moment of real pathos and actual character development.

This isn't to say that the film is anything less than a triumph of the film making art. I entered the theater wondering how Jackson could come close to matching the original trilogy (which I admire greatly). And by no means was I disappointed, a feat in itself. Visually, sonically, in every way it represents the pinnacle of what is possible today in big screen film making. It certainly left me longing to watch the continuing saga.

Ken liked this review