Willie Waffle is the movie critic for people who hate movie critics.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Back To The Shire!

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hobbitposter.jpgThe fans are hauling out the furry feet and wizards' robes from the back of their closets this weekend, and practicing the best way to say, "The Precious."  Nine years after The Lord of The Rings trilogy triumphantly dominated Hollywood, Hobbits and Dwarves have returned with a vengeance for a new trilogy that challenges your endurance and how you look at movies.  I just wish they had a cooler subtitle than, "An Unexpected Journey."  Why not, "Back to the Shire" or "More Hobbits, More Problems." 

Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins - the hobbit homebody who is not all that thrilled when Gandalf the Wizard (Ian McKellen) decides to invite a bunch of Dwarves over to his place for dinner (amazingly enough, they don't have the best table manners nor self-restraint when it comes to pie). 

They are reuniting with Thorin (Richard Armitage) - the prince of the Dwarves who is trying to reunite them and take back their once proud and amazing castle kingdom in the mountains, Erebor.  Sadly, they lost everything when a dragon invaded, and, to take back their homeland, they will have to defeat him to reverse their nomadic lifestyle (and get their gold back!).

Can the Dwarves make their way across Middle Earth and defeat this intimidating foe who can breathe fire? 

Why do they need Bilbo Baggins?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has moments of brilliance and moments of boredom, which makes you realize it is not quite in the same league as The Lord Of The Rings.

Much is being made of the movie being shown in 3D as well as being filmed and shown in the new speed of 48 frames per second (films you watch normally are shot at 24 frames per second), but it sure does make a difference in how you view The Hobbit.

The look is mostly brilliant and clearer than anything you have seen in a movie theater.  The 3D jumps off the screen, while the film looks like the best HDTV you have ever witnessed with your own human eyes.  However, that HD look also exposes some of the lesser quality effects and characters because everything is exposed with such amazing clarity.  

The hobbits' furry feet look like clunky foam filled shoes and some of the non-digitally created creatures wearing masks and other prosthetics would be laughed out of any self-respecting, serious Halloween costume party.  

Also, it doesn't look like a movie, which may be an attraction to a new generation of kids who are used to High Definition TV, while old codgers like me reminisce about the beauty of 24 frames per second film.  If you want to judge for yourself, look for showings in HFR.  Of course, all of this talk about the look of the film dominating the discussion (and this review) says alot about how the material might not be the greatest.  

It's a long slog through Middle Earth.  Sure, writer/director Peter Jackson and his writing team find ways to keep us excited as we revisit some characters from the first trilogy, and meet some new ones who promise to liven up the next two movies, but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey gets into every single possible minute detail, which will thrill hardcore fans, and make the rest of us wish an editor had a chance to trim some of this.  

Also, The Hobbit is a silly movie at times.  It doesn't have the gravity of the first three movies, especially as we get all sorts of crude, potty humor and comic relief characters who seem too stupid.

However, the most exciting portion of the film is the amazing showdown between Gollum and Bilbo.  It's the moment that saves The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and delivers all of the crackling tension, danger and thrills this movie needs.   If only the entire film was this good!  It's a battle of wits revealing Gollum to be more dangerous and devilish than we remember, while giving Freeman a chance to make the most of a moment fans realize will be monumental.
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And, Freeman is fantastic.  He gives Baggins a wholesome earnestness to everything he does.  Even awkward and forced bits about him not fitting in with the Dwarves make us feel for the dude when his feelings are hurt and he does his best to make the not-so-funny moments of comedy work as his quiet, homebody life is upended.  Freeman is soulful in ways that make Bilbo a great character.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a solid movie, and, possibly, a technological wonder that can change how we see movies forever, but doesn't have the greatness we need and expect.

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3 Waffles (Out of 4)


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.