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"The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action, violence and frightening images.
Runtime: 169 minutes
Release date: Dec. 14
Rating: Long, but nice venture back into Middle Earth
Today, fans will step once again into the lands of Middle Earth as “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” opens in theaters nationwide.
“The Hobbit,” written by J.R.R. Tolkien and published in 1936, is the beloved tale of Bilbo Baggins’ adventure with dwarfs, discovery of the ring and the tale of Smaug the dragon.
Director Peter Jackson decided to break the story into three movies. While it might mean more money in his and the studio’s pockets, I’m not sure this is the wisest way to treat the original text.
As a fan of the book, I have to remember the film is an entirely separate entity. It is going to be different.
Many might not understand the following examples but those loyal to the book might wonder why in the world Radagast the brown wizard (played by the seventh Doctor of “Doctor Who,” Sylvester McCoy) is even in “The Hobbit” and they might be a little disappointed in the treatment of the mysterious disappearances in the cave wall.
But after getting past those inconsistencies with the original tale, you can settle in and appreciate that Bilbo’s tale finally is being told, Middle Earth is back on the big screen and soon audiences get to see the dragon.
My main criticism of the film is it is too long. The book itself is much smaller than the trilogy of books that make up “The Lord of the Rings.” Jackson has somehow stretched this book into three films and the first one is almost three hours long. If the film had been tightened, the story would have flowed better and not dragged in several places. This film is just a piece of the journey and by breaking it up, audiences will have to be on the journey a while before they get to the endgame of the story.
What I liked most about the film was how Jackson tied Bilbo’s story into what happens later in “The Lord of the Rings.”
The film opens with a prologue by an older Bilbo, played once again by Iam Holm. He’s just beginning to write the story of his journey while Frodo (Elijah Wood) is making preparations for the party that begins “The Fellowship of the Ring.”
The tale is told as Bilbo remembers back to the day Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the grey wizard shows up at his door and the adventure begins. Martin Freeman (Watson, TV’s “Sherlock”) does well stepping into the hairy hobbit feet of Bilbo’s younger self.
Sources in Tolkien’s world beyond “The Hobbit” also were used to fill in some of the back story of characters and events that unfold in this film.
The landscape of Middle Earth, filmed in New Zealand, is as breathtaking as before and the special effects are top notch. In fact, the effects might be too good. There are reports some viewers of the 3D film on IMAX screens have experienced motion sickness.
There is a greater dependence on computer-generated characters this time around as well. While orcs and goblins might have been played by actors in previous films, this time around they mostly are computer-generated.
As with “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, I will reserve my judgment about the changes from the book until the trilogy is complete. I enjoyed those films as much as I did the books, even with the storytelling differences.
For now, I wait expectantly for the appearance of Beorn, giant spiders, a barrel ride down the river and at last, the dragon.
“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” is scheduled to be released next December followed by “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” in July 2014.
In the end, if you can’t wait to get back into the world Tolkien created, you will enjoy the film. If you want the story to play out like the pages of the book, you might be a little disappointed.