A cursory look at the other new releases of the week will probably reveal a batch of films you’ve never heard of nor have any intention of seeing. The movie studios may be many things, but they’re not stupid — and they know not to go up against an utter behemoth on opening weekend, which Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey most certainly is.
Expectations are high among Hobbit fans, but with the final part of the Lord of the Rings trilogy cleaning up at the Oscars, moviegoers and critics alike are hoping that Jackson can once again become Lord of the Ring. The movie – the first in another trilogy – was shot in 3D and, far more radically, at 48 frames per second (since 1927, the standard frame rate has been half that amount). “24 frames is jarring to me now,” Jackson has said. “It looks primitive. Change is good, it takes people some time to get used to it.”
But is his movie any good? In a nutshell, it follows the Shire-dwelling hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), with some assistance from a familiar friend, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), on a quest with 13 dwarves to reclaim their treasure and homeland from a dragon called Smaug (and yes, he’ll meet Gollum, once again played by Andy Serkis, along the way).
Critical reaction to the film, despite Jackson’s obsessive defense of the controversial frame rate – “Ultimately, it’s not critics who are going to decide if this [format] is going to be adopted or not, it’s the audience” – is pretty positive. Empire concludes that, “The Hobbit plays younger and lighter than Fellowship and its follow-ups, but does right by the faithful and has a strength in Martin Freeman’s Bilbo that may yet see this trilogy measure up to the last one. There is treasure here.” More surprisingly, the New Yorker is also pleased with what Jackson’s achieved with his latest take on J.R.R. Tolkien’s world: “On balance, honor has been done to Tolkien, not least in the famous riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum, and some of the exploits to come will surely lighten the load.” But when a bad notice is served, boy, is it served. “This film is so stuffed with extraneous faff and flummery that it often barely feels like Tolkien at all – more a dire, fan-written internet tribute,” writes the Daily Telegraph. And The Village Voice ain’t happy either. “Instead of feeling like we’ve been transported to Middle-earth, it’s as if we’ve dropped in on Jackson’s New Zealand set, trapped in an endless “making of” documentary, waiting for the real movie to start.” But when all’s said and done, or rather written, the likes of The Hobbit tend to be critic-proof because, if you’re even remotely interested in going on this unexpected, or perhaps expected journey, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing.