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Having read a few reviews before going to see "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" I didn't have the highest of expectations for the movie. Many critics say it was long, drawn out and cast in the exact same dye as the original Lord of the Rings trilogy (which, I really see no problem with.). I did avoid the 3D 48fps version and went with the old-fashioned regular frame rate 2D version because some people said it spoiled the fantasy feeling of the movie by feeling to realistic.
I was also a bit skeptical about splitting The Hobbit into three movies, since it was a 300-page book.
However, about halfway through the movie I decided "this is better than the book." And I think that's the first time in the history of movies that you can say that. Since it's a three-movie series, Peter Jackson is allowed to fill in the blanks on some events in the book that are basically written out in just one or two pages. For the most part, he hits every single nuance that the first 100 pages of the Hobbit offers in this first movie. If you just read the book (which I have, again), you'll be shocked just how faithful he is to the source material and how impressed you'll be with the changes he makes.
Some people criticized Jackson for taking too long in the movie to get out of the Shire, but the initial dwarf scenes are highly entertaining and if you didn't like them you probably didn't like the original three LOTR movies.
One of the qualms I had with the first three films was just how wimpy Frodo was for the majority of the time. It became the least favorite of the storylines that split out, despite a great performance by Sean Austin as Sam. The hobbit in this flick, the affable Bilbo Baggins, played by Martin Freeman, is the highlight of this movie. He played the reluctant traveler, bewildered by his circumstances absolutely wonderfully. He also comes across much more capable and clever than Frodo appeared in the first three films. Freeman is a highlight of the film for sure.
I also must say I'm happy the dwarves weren't played as completely comical but still entertaining. Gimli was used as too much as comic relief in the first three flicks, so it feels good they get their due. It also must be noted that had it not been for the first three LOTR movies, these flicks would never be made because what Hollywood studio would okay a flick about 13 short people and an old wizard? None. Jackson isn't afraid to take risks and portray the most unique parts of the book.
The whole dwarves showing up at Bilbo's place? Done. The riddle game with Gollum (Who's just fantastic this time around, really a great, wonderful piece of cinema right there)? Yep. Escaping from the Trolls by distracting them till sunrise? Yeah, it's in there. All things and devices that aren't normally used in Hollywood films and Jackson pulls them off wonderfully.
He also adds some very wonderful human scenes where some emotions and feelings are fleshed out. Bilbo's tenuous relationship with the dwarves, and their loss of home that I don't feel was really put front and center in the original book. It's a nice layer that makes me feel the movie is deeper than the book.
The only times I felt slightly distracted during the film was the addition of some things obviously meant to make sure audiences remember this is connected with the Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit really starts out as a plundering adventure for gold, but Jackson tries his hardest to make sure everything is connected to the originally trilogy (including an impromptu meeting between Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman the White that just feels very tacked on in order to make the audience feel like this is a more important adventure than it is. There is a nice monologue by Gandalf about Hobbits in there, however.
There pursuing orc band added into the film, obviously meant to give an active bad guy force to root against is slightly annoying just because it feels like it's needed for us "dumb" audiences. Unless we have some overlying bad guy force, we can't enjoy the movie? Come on.
Thorin is pretty bad ass, and flawed as a hero, which makes him almost more likeable that Strider in the first flick. The dwarves are most fleshed out as characters than the dwarves in the book. The action scenes are clever and playful. It really does feel like Jackson was the right person to move J.R. Tolkien's material along.
It's nice we're back in Middle Earth. It's definitely familiar but that's okay.
FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS