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Review Roundup (12/20): Peter Jackson's THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY

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Peter Jackson's THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY opened in theaters on Friday, December 14 in 3D, 2D and IMAX 3D.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which was long ago conquered by the dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior Thorin Oakenshield.

Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers. Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain, first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever... Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities... A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.

Let's see what the critics had to say:

Christopher Orr, The Atlantic: "The Lord of the Ringswas a fresh and exhilarating movie experience: the CGI breakthroughs, the thoughtful and somber tone, the sheer cinematic scale and gusto. With The Hobbit, Jackson might have taken on a different challenge, telling a story more innocent and intimate, more hobbit-sized. Instead, he's offered up something a bit too indulgent, a bit too familiar, a bit-if I may borrow a phrase-there and back again.

Lisa Kennedy, The Denver Post: "Excessively hyped and long-awaited, Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" muddles its magic. It has everything you want from a J.R.R. Tolkien-based fantasy adventure and more. Too much more. All those fantastic digital effects and new ways of shooting and exhibiting the film in 3D as well as excessive battle sequences make this return to Middle-earth less exhilarating than exhausting. Jackson has not outdone himself so much as indulged himself."

Richard Roeper, RichardRoeper.com: "There's no denying the majesty in Peter Jackson's visuals but he's taken a relatively slim children's book and stretched it beyond the limits."

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: "Martin Freeman makes an endearing Bilbo, fearful and fey yet clearly up for a call to perilous action, and if that action is slow to come, it's certainly spectacular once Bilbo leaves his cozy shire... [THE HOBBIT is] An overlong adventure enlivened by wonders."

Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post: "After years of stops, starts, Barnum-esque hype and rumors of game-changing technology, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" has finally arrived, not on wings of gossamer fancy but with a hairy-footed thud...It's a bloated, shockingly tedious trudge that manages to look both overproduced and unforgivably cheesy. As the first of director Peter Jackson's trilogy -- the prequel to his adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings" -- it may well please the franchise's most devoted fans..."

Tom Charity, CNN.com: "They say the longest journey starts with a single step...But with "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first in a trilogy adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's first novel, Peter Jackson has taken a different approach: He's gone two steps forward and three steps back."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "What saves the day is the spidery, schizoid Gollum, again performed by the great Andy Serkis through the craft of motion capture. Though Serkis works on set with the actors, he has been denied Oscar recognition because of the computer animation involved. Fie on you, Academy! Serkis equals and surpasses most of what passes for award-caliber performances. Here, playing a game of riddles with Bilbo, who has stolen the ring Gollum calls "my precious," Serkis helps turn The Hobbit into everything you wished for - a fantasy with the power to haunt your dreams. Too bad it takes the movie so damn long to get there."

A.O. Scott, The New York Times: The comparative playfulness of the novel could have made this "Hobbit" movie a lot of fun, but over the years MR. Jackson seems to have shed most of the exuberant, gleefully obnoxious whimsy that can be found in early films like "Meet the Feebles" and "Dead Alive." A trace of his impish old spirit survives in some of the creature designs in "The Hobbit" - notably a gelatinous and gigantic Great Goblin and an encampment of cretinous, Three-Stooges-like trolls - but Tolkien's inventive, episodic tale of a modest homebody on a dangerous journey has been turned into an overscale and plodding spectacle.

Kenneth Turan, The Los Angeles Times: But the heart of the problem... is that all of "Lord of the Rings' " success led to a series of choices made for "The Hobbit," including the decision to push the new 48-frames-per-second technology, known as high frame rate, as the preferred format, that have not worked out for the best. The result is a film that is solid and acceptable instead of soaring and exceptional, one unnecessarily hampered in its quest to reach the magical heights of the trilogy.

Mark Hughes, Forbes: I have no idea what film the "meh" crowd of critics saw, but it must not have been The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, because their complaints have no relation to the masterful filmmaking displayed in this prequel adaptation to director Peter Jackson's blockbuster The Lord of the Rings franchise. The Hobbit is a big, bold, beautiful triumph on every level, standing squarely on its own two feet rather than attempting to mimic the style and voice of its predecessors. It is easily one of the year's best films, and should be a sure nominee for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing (Film and Sound).

Carole Mallory, Huffington Post: While initially I was not eager to see J.R.R.Tolkien's The Hobbit, I am pleased to say that it drew me in, invited me to study its opening and then once the dwarves appeared, it swept me away. One spectacular special effects sequence after another. Its ending will lift you up and almost out of your seat. Peter Jackson, who directed, co-wrote and produced this magnificent film, has done it again.

Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter: If The Hobbit had been filmed shortly after the book's publication in 1937 (it's a wonder that it wasn't), one easily could imagine a lively affair full of great character actors and cleverly goofy special effects that would have moved the story along in smart style in under two hours. In Jackson's academically fastidious telling, however, it's as if The Wizard of Oz had taken nearly an hour just to get out of Kansas. There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going.

Peter Debruge, Vanity Fair: Jackson and his team seem compelled to flesh out the world of their earlier trilogy in scenes that would be better left to extended-edition DVDs (or omitted entirely), all but failing to set up a compelling reason for fans to return for the second installment. The film hints at a looming run-in with Smaug, but makes clear that this mission serves more to win back the dwarves' lost kingdom than to protect the fate of Middle-earth. Bilbo's arc, therefore, consists of proving his value to a mission that doesn't concern him personally.

Edward Douglas, Coming Soon: The movie's biggest hurdle and the one that's hardest to get past is the decision to shoot the movie in 3D at a higher frame rate of 48 frames per second, twice the normal speed. It's an interesting experiment that makes everything look crisp and clear and in some ways it makes everything look real and present, which would generally help the 3D. This cinematography greatly enhances the picturesque New Zealand landscapes that played such a large part in the scale of the earlier trilogy, but at the same time, the characters walking across those landscapes look like bad CG.

Drew McWeenie, Hit Fix: But by its very nature, "The Hobbit" is more episodic, and in addition to that dinner sequence at the start of the film, there is a detour to Rivendell that features some great moments (Christopher Lee is marvelous and seems to savor every word he delivers), but that also seems to go on and on and on. Pacing is an issue in this film in a way that it never struck me as a problem in any of the three "Lord Of The Rings" movies, and I think part of it is that we just don't end up getting to know these characters as well.

Jen Yamato, Movieline: Part of the problem is there's too much detail in every frame that the magical filter of cinema that makes most 24 fps film so pleasing to the eye is gone; every prop on a set too clear, and even a performance by someone like the very fine Ian McKellen looks embarrassingly, unnaturally theatrical. Moving images, especially walking Hobbits and dwarves - not as much the CG creatures, for what it's worth - flit at odd speeds that just never look right.

Todd Gilchrist, Celeb Buzz: In particular, the early scenes in the film drag, a conspicuous indicator that the appendices - or bonus footage to be added to Extended Editions later - offer little to anyone but hardcore fans. As if attempting to outdo the 45-minute wedding sequence in The Deer Hunter, Jackson stages a banquet with the dwarves at Bilbo's house that is absurdly long without offering anything significant in terms of story - at least not that couldn't have been accomplished in less than half the same time.


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