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HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Approached unexpectedly by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), the young hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), on a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. 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 (Andy Serkis). 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 him, he also gains possession of Gollum's "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities ...

Review by Louise Keller:
The extraordinarily intricate and detailed world of the first of Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy is an all-encompassing, wondrously created reality. It may not have the emotional ballast of its precursor The Lord of the Rings, largely due to an over-abundance of characters and slow exposition, but the authenticity of the reality, so lovingly devised and created by Jackson, coupled with its extravagant set pieces, is astonishing.

Whether you are familiar with J.R.R. Tolkien's classic writings or not, it is easy to become lost in this world of extremes that begins on verdant green hills with hobbit holes before journeying through unforgiving, treacherous cliff-side passages towards the far-away destination of the Lonely Mountain. But it takes some time for the journey and quest to begin and for the little hobbit Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to join the band of dwarves to reclaim their home. Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro have opted to pad the film's opening with a distracting prologue describing the circumstances in which the dwarves are forced to wander the wilderness after losing their home of Erebor to the fiery dragon Smaug.

The descent of 13 hungry dwarves on Bilbo's tidy hobbit hole offers some humour as his food supply is quickly demolished and plates are tossed nonchalantly from one room to the next. The dwarves' physicality provides much of the colour, with their oversized noses and abundance of hair - facial and otherwise. Richard Armitage as their leader Thorin is The Hobbit's equivalent to Viggo Mortensen's Aragorn, although Mortensen's charisma is lacking.

The settings are vast, majestic and the epitome of fantasy and I like the spectacular crystal platform surrounded by waterfalls in the land of the Elves, where Cate Blanchett's Galadriel and Hugo Weaver's Elrond help read the map to give directions to the travellers. Ian McKellen's wizard Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman are also welcome as they reprise their roles. The spectacles come in the form of stone boulder giants thrashing the rock surfaces as well as the orcs, trolls and goblins that create havoc along the way.

The scene in which we meet Gollum (Andy Serkis) is unforgettable and for my money, the film's best scene. As Gollum, the mesmerising, deformed hunched creature with saucer blue eyes talks to his alter ego, he challenges Bilbo to a game of riddles. He is the character to which we can most easily relate and it is in this sequence that the precious ring that is central to the Lord of the Rings trilogy is introduced.

The beautiful New Zealand settings, Jackson's adroit direction and the brilliance of the creation of the reality are the film's high points. Whether there is the substance enough to support three films in the trilogy will be revealed in the next in the series, but as far as technical wizardry goes with its superb 3D effects, it is in its visuals that The Hobbit excels.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the lowlife in The Hobbit (vicious creatures) sound like working class Poms, although their familiarity with herbs and spices for cooking strikes a discordant note. I'm talking about the nasty big things that capture the dwarves - it's not the first or last time that happens during their journey - and start spit roasting them while discussing the finer points of cuisine. It shouldn't come as a surprise because the author, J. R. R. Tolkien, was English, and he was writing this story in the 1930s. Despite having created an entire universe of Middle Earth, including its own language, his terms of reference for the scum of the earth would have been limited.

I had to smile at these consonant-challenged English accents and the notion of them being from the East End of London. Even some of their expressions sound familiar to anyone who has lived in England. A reference to golf (by Gandalf!) is funny and the phrase 'from the frying pan to the fire' adds to the real-world connection.

There's not much else that echoes with our world, as we dive back into the Shire, some 60 years before Frodo (Elijah Wood) set off on a quest to return that precious but dangerous gold ring to the Crack of Doom ... this is the backstory, as it were, the story of how it came about that the ring turned up in the Shire. But this first part of the Hobbit trilogy is ... just the first part, the part where the young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) ends up in possession of it.

This is where we meet the hideously formed, other-worldly Gollum (Andy Serkis), and the scene in which their crucial exchange takes place is perhaps the best in the film, from a dramatic and cinematic point of view.

It's a wild adventure - again - filled with vicious creatures from the Tolkien and Team Jackson imaginations, wondrous lands, enormous castles (some in ruin) and the power of Gandalf's (Ian McKellen) magic. New Zealand will again enjoy a tourism boom as thousands flock to find those astonishing vistas that our dozen dwarf heroes with Bilbo and Gandalf have to conquer. Emerging from Tolkien's studies in ancient Scandinavian lore, the text is full of references that add texture (eg swords with special names).

The story itself is clear enough, and the creative grunt and technical sophistication are superb. But I have a reservation about the tone of pantomime that is established at the start of the film, and which influences the dwarves' and Martin Freeman's performance throughout (although he ends on a strong note; just as well, given he has evolved into a hero). The faintly farcical tone clashes jarringly with both the fantasy and the drama of the adventure, while some lines of stilted dialogue come as a surprise.

The much anticipated 48 frames per second 3D presentation seems glorious to me, delivering a superb image, and doing justice to the craftsmen whose skills have un-aged Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, to bring them back from the cinematic future of the story. (Blanchett seems a little stilted, too ... )

The adventure has plenty of action and tension, although I could wish for somewhat less of it; at almost three hours, the series of battles and fights and scrapes - as marvellous and death-defying as they are - get to be a tad repetitious, as our little band forges its way towards their ancient home in Lonely Mountain.



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CRITICAL COUNT
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Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE (M)
(NZ/US, 2012)

CAST: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Aidan Turner, Ian Holm, Mikael Persbrandt, James Nesbitt, Barry Humphries, Billy Connolly, Bendict Cumberbatch

PRODUCER: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Carolynne Cunningham

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

SCRIPT: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro (novel by J. R. R. Tolkien)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Andrew Lesnie

EDITOR: Jabez Olssen

MUSIC: Howard Shore

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dan Hennah

RUNNING TIME: 169 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2012

UPCOMING EVENT
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre, Parramatta, Sydney.

Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.







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