12/09/2012 19:47 | By Ed Holden, editor, MSN Movies

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review

Peter Jackson introduces an entirely different looking Middle Earth

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (© Warner Bros Inc)

What’s the story?
When Bilbo Baggins receives an unexpected visit from Gandalf The Grey and a party of dwarves, he refuses to join their quest to reclaim the dwarves' homeland from a terrible enemy. But the wizard persuades him, revealing qualities the hobbit didn’t know he had.

What did we think?
Peter Jackson’s prequel is quite different to The Lord Of The Rings. Kudos is due for a brave new approach in an incredibly detailed 48 frames per second that is often stunning to behold. But some will not react well to the dramatic new look and the notably different tone.

There’s been a lot of talk about returning to Hobbiton and Middle Earth in the run up to The Hobbit. We’ve approached it with a sense of cosy nostalgia, but Peter Jackson has revealed a monumentally ambitious epic set in an entirely different world to the one we departed in 2004.

We’ll get straight to the new frame rate which, wrongly or rightly, is the standout talking point. The Hobbit is shot in 48 frames per second rather than the standard 24, meaning our eyes actually take in twice as much movie and everything looks incredibly detailed. There are those who will tell you it makes everything look like a cheap TV soap rather than a rich, deep and contrasted movie frame. 

We disagree. It takes some time for the eyes to adjust, but the astonishing detail becomes a joy and a true compliment to the 3D (excellent) as things progress. Jackson may not have perfected the new medium, but it's a bold and often beautiful experiment.

Similarly to the new tech, the Hobbit's story development needs time to win us over. The early going is rather slow and those dwarves, all 13 of them, don't immediately win their stripes as a comic troupe. They just take a rather long time to get going and sing songs we could probably have done without. Yes, we understand that The Hobbit has a lighter tone but in the end most of the comic relief is handled by Martin Freeman's understated humour.

Speaking of extraneous material there are a few elements in the early going that don't really hit home. A section involving the wizard Radagast The Brown (Sylvester McCoy) healing an ailing Hedgehog and riding around a fortress on a sled pulled by hares, though pulled into a wider story arc, still feels like a deleted scene destined for an extended cut Blu-Ray. 

Jackson has plundered Tolkien's appendices and notes for extra material for The Hobbit where in The Lord Of The Rings he was cutting sections of the text away. The new material's incorporation is hit and miss.

These faults are real shame because of what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey develops into in the second half: a roaring adventure filled with amazing visuals and audacious action sequences. Jackson really has pushed the envelope and it doesn't feel at all like you've been watching for three hours. Freeman matches Jackson's billing as 'the perfect Bilbo' and Ian McKellen certainly helps us overwhelm our misgivings. 

Once you realise you're not returning to the same Middle Earth, we're betting you'll very much enjoy it.


4 stars

Verdict: With a bold new look and approach, Peter Jackson creates a visual feast filled with intrigue and adventure.

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