There are a lot of highly anticipated movies coming out this month, from Kathryn Bigelow's "Zero Dark Thirty" to Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained." But the toppermost of the poppermost for many film geeks is "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first part of a planned trilogy of "Lord of the Rings" prequels by filmmaker Peter Jackson and his team of special effects wizards (and hobbits, and elves, and assorted other fantasy creatures) at Weta Workshop.
There's a lot of anticipation for "The Hobbit" -- and plenty of questions about it too. How will Jackson stretch the single volume "Hobbit" to fill the runtimes of three films? What's the movie's first-of-its-kind "High Frame Rate" (or HFR) look like? Will the 48 frames per second projection signal a technological breakthrough for cinema? Will it be worth the higher admission price? Heck, will the damn thing be any good at all?
We're finally starting to find out. The review embargo for "The Hobbit" fell Monday night like the walls of Helm's Deep (I think; you're looking at a comics nerd, not a fantasy nerd, so my metaphors in this department might not be up to snuff), and we got our first serious wave of reviews. So far, the fellowship of the critics is somewhat mixed, particularly on the HFR side of things. The 48fps projection is alternately described as "transporting" and "unwatchable" -- and that's by just one critic, Ain't It Cool News' Jeremy Smith. Some folks think 48fps could be the shiny new future of movie projection, but they also wonder if that future may still be a ways off.
As for the content itself, most of the reviews you'll find below say it's a fairly fun ride, although many also compare it negatively to "The Lord of the Rings" -- as in it's pretty good, but not as good. Then again, there are some raves, and you find a bunch of them below as well. At least so far, there isn't a critical consensus on this one. You'll have to keep looking for it, out there somewhere on Middle Earth.
Early Reviews of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"
"The worst thing that could be said about Peter Jackson's fourth cinematic foray into Middle Earth, 'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,' is that it follows suit, being merely good when greatness was anticipated or expected."
"As lengthy as this first installment is, it's a cracking start."
"While Peter Jackson's prequel to 'The Lord of the Rings' delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling -- colorful characters on an epic quest amid stunning New Zealand scenery -- it doesn't offer nearly enough novelty to justify the three-film, nine-hour treatment, at least on the basis of this overlong first installment."
"Less a faithful adaptation of Tolkien's 'The Hobbit' as much as Jackson trying to recapture the magic of the 'Lord of the Rings' movies and failing miserably."
"There’s no sequence in the movie that Jackson can’t stretch out just slightly too long."
"A two-hour story in a two-hour-and-forty-minute story’s body, and anyone who’s not consumed copious amounts of Tolkien kool-aid seems likely to question why they’re watching so much story that seems so unimportant, and for so long."
"Does what so few sequels/prequels do, making you hungry for the next of the series, while still making you appreciate very much what has come before."
"Jackson has lost none of his ability to deliver this sort of brawny mainstream entertainment, even if a bit of déjà vu hovers over the proceedings."
"Is 48 fps good? It isn’t a case of good or bad. It’s an aesthetic choice, like Michael Mann’s use of video in ‘Public Enemies.’ I never 'got used to it.'"
"This isn’t a 'bad' movie, this isn’t unwatchable, it is engaging in spots, and there’s a lot to like in the mix, but this lacks almost everything that made the original trilogy so great to begin with."
"Seems so awed with its own technical ingenuity that character and narrative fade into the distance."
"Fans of Jackson, Tolkien and the 'Lord of the Rings' films will enjoy it. However, it’s long and uneven."
"If you're willing to just go with it, 'An Unexpected Journey' is a competent ride, but as a whole it lacks purpose, giving the impression of a television program in its later seasons still chugging along while fulyl aware that it has peaked."
"A purist's delight, something the millions of die-hard fans of [Jackson's] 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy will gorge upon. In pure movie terms, however, it's also a bit of a slog, with an inordinate amount of exposition and lack of strong forward movement."
"The only piece that really feels out of place is the new technical innovation that's being introduced with this film: the 48 frames-per-second High Frame Rate photography."
"My hope is that the three films taken together will work better than this one does on its own, and that the pacing issues are not going to be ongoing as the series continues."
"A fresh, free-spirited form of fantasy."
"'The Hobbit' is another grand achievement from director Peter Jackson."
"Proof that Jackson still has a knack for stories in this world, and that he may have more surprises in store as the rest of this new, unexpected trilogy unfolds."
"Just good enough to make you aware of how it could have been much, much better."
"From a technology standpoint, I enjoyed it quite a bit. But! To the extent that I simply wanted to watch a movie and be immersed in another world, [HFR] was distracting."
"'An Unexpected Journey' in high-frame-rate 3D is a deep, vicious pendulum swing between transporting and flat-out unwatchable -- and it's impossible to fully adjust to the format because you never know when it's suddenly going to look like a demo reel."
"I was entertained but underwhelmed by 'The Hobbit.'"
"'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' has set a high bar for the next two installments."
"Can't quite recapture the greatness, emotional impact or charm of the 'LOTR' films, but there's still much to enjoy."
"With the exception of a handful of scenes, mostly enhanced by CG vs. shot on interior sets, the 48fps had me imagining how gorgeous everything might look in 24fps."