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Movie Review: "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

 Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is the first feature film to be shown at 48 frames per second, as opposed to the usual 24 frames per second, but even so, I loved this film so much that I'm not sure there could ever be enough frames of it to make me happy.

As a longtime Tolkien fan, I can assure you that if you are a reasonable person who understands that books and film are two very different mediums, then you will be pleased with - and maybe even excited by - the changes that Jackson brought to the adaptation of our beloved story. The pace is ever so slightly slow in the beginning of the film (not complaining!), and this is understandable because audiences - especially those who have never read the book - need to hear quite a bit of exposition and background before the tale can proceed. Once the quest of Thorin Oakenshield's company is truly underway, however, the pace is breathtaking and there are mishaps and perils at every turn. Some of the changes to the story that you will see were added, I feel, to lend even more suspense to those parts of The Hobbit during which we always hold our breath and bite our nails.

What I especially loved about this movie:

1. Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins Martin Freeman absolutely becomes Bilbo Baggins. His understated acting style, his innate English-ness, his dry sense of humor onscreen, and his host of subtle expressions tempt you to think you have always pictured Bilbo as Mr. Freeman.

2. Jackson Taking the Liberty of Being "Silly" Although I think "The Hobbit" is serious when it needs to be serious, part of what was so lovely about this film was that I think Jackson felt free to be a little "siller" with "The Hobbit" than he could be with "The Lord of the Rings" films. The Hobbit, after all, was written as children's story, and it has more whimsy and less darkness than The Lord of the Rings. Without giving any of the laughs or delightful details away, I will just say that Jackson obviously felt at liberty to make his monsters more endearing, his chase sequences zanier and more dizzying, and his characters' foibles more comedic.

3. The Monsters Speaking of monsters, by now everyone has heard the story of Peter Jackson being so inspired as a young boy by a viewing of King Kong, and to this day he tries to imbue his creatures and monsters with another side - a hidden, more human side we can empathize with - that few other filmmakers bother to show. The monsters in "The Hobbit" were positively mesmerizing. You'll find yourself unable to tear your eyes from the trolls, the goblin king, the orcs, the wargs, Radagast's furry followers, and of course, Gollum, no matter how snotty, scaly, slobbery, or scarred they may be!

4. Radagast the Brown I know there is a crowd out there whose feathers are ruffled (um, no pun intended...Okay, so I intended it!) by Jackson's interpretation of Gandalf's wizard peer, Radagast the Brown. To be honest, there just aren't volumes of description about Radagast anywhere in Tolkien's work. However, we do know he cared deeply for woodland creatures and protected the flora and fauna from his home in Rhosgobel on the outskirts of Mirkwood. And if I have observed one thing from all my years of being a Peter Jackson fan, it is that he respects Tolkien's books as much as any Tolkien fan. He would never purposely or carelessly make a mockery of any character Tolkien has brought to life. Personally, I love the odd, eccentric, earthy, unselfconscious Radagast that Jackson depicts. Radagast owns a great deal of the laughs in his little part of the movie, and I think you are going to like his mode of transportation...

5. Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield If I were not just another love-struck fan girl when it comes to Richard Armitage, then I undoubtedly am now, after two viewings of "The Hobbit." Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm his. (This is where you say: In your nerdy dreams, Brewmaster!) But in all seriousness, my satisfaction with both Armitage's performance and Jackson's direction of this character goes far, far beyond that. Armitage as the exiled dwarf prince, Thorin Oakenshield, gives a performance that stirs that feeling deep down in your stomach that makes you want to leap out of your seat and wield a sword against something wicked. He plays a true hero, if a stoic and short-tempered one. I feel that in the book, Thorin's character comes across as grumpy and unfeeling and selfish. Maybe that's just me. Maybe I've been influenced by the Rankin-Bass cartoon I loved so much as a kid (and still do). But Jackson's film rounds him out so well; it paints a picture of a hurting but courageous man who keeps it together for the sake of his homeless nation. He is leadership incarnate. Look up "manly" in the dictionary, and I'd wager it now says "see: Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield."

6. Last but not Least: 48 Frames Per Second! I think I know now why Jackson films his fight scenes up so close! Before, you could never tell what was going on. There's a knee, there's a sword...Oh, look! I think that was an elbow smashing into a face! I think perhaps Jackson was anticipating finally being able to show movies to audiences at 48 frames per second, which is apparently closer to what our eyes actually see. Honestly, so many things were improved by the addition of 3D (which I normally am not a huge fan of) and the higher frame rate. Seriously, if a theatre near you shows the higher frame rate, go for it. It takes maybe a few minutes of getting used to, but I truly don't think it will make you sick as some people reported. It is actually easier on your eyes because there is less strobing and flashing for your eyes to deal with.

I don't care how many stars your rating scale has, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" ticks them all! I could not recommend this film more whole-heartedly. Seriously, one of my favorite authors (whose signature is on a book in my bookcase) ranted on Facebook about his refusal to see what he thinks is a pile of commercial garbage, and I un-Liked him. I don't need to read any more if his posts. I feel that strongly about this film. You're going to wish they made it into six movies. ;)


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