Fans of Peter Jackson’s original Lord of the Rings trilogy will hail his return in this prequel, the first of another trilogy, but it’s hardly the breakout film many are expecting.

Much like the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit is an adventure film. Taking place many years before Frodo’s journey, this story follows the adventure his uncle, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is enlisted, if almost tricked, into joining the mission by Gandalf (Ian McKellen). However, instead of a journey that threatens all inhabitants of Middle Earth, this one deals directly with the plight of the Dwarves. In short, their home, at the Lonely Mountain was taken from them by the dragon Smaug, along with a massive amount of treasure, and a small group of Dwarf warriors are seeking to reclaim it. The first obvious question then is, what does that have to do with Bilbo? Cleverly, owing to the homebody he is, that’s the exact question he immediately poses.

After Gandalf tricks him into hosting the planning party, he insists Bilbo must come along. Even the Dwarves aren’t convinced, especially as Bilbo continues to resist. However, Gandalf is insistent reiterating that his small and quick stature, disguising it as a skill for burglary, will be a key ingredient to getting past Smaug once they reach the Lonely Mountain. Whatever the the ultimate reason is, the group decides to march on in search of their home. Of course, getting there can’t be so easy. Without spoiling too much of the action, the group comes up against a litany of enemies including Trolls and, especially, Orcs, who act as the main villains in the film and who’s leader Bolg (Conan Stevens) is a personal enemy of the Dwarves’ leader Thorin (Richard Armitage).

Throughout all of the dazzling battle scenes, the heart of the story is Bilbo’s growth. Definitely the outsider of the journey, he’s not so much afraid or unhappy as he is annoyed. Annoyed that the Dwarves cleared out his pantry, annoyed that he’s being pushed to leave the comfort of his him and, finally, annoyed that he may not be able to handle what lies ahead. While the actual plot is the Dwarves’ attempt to reclaim their home, the story is about Bilbo’s personal journey and his introduction to the world outside of his own home. He’s similar to his nephew in that respect, but whereas Frodo was introspective and buckling under the pressure of the task he was given, Bilbo fits the bill of a bumbling fool finding his place in the world.

Those worried that the relatively short book is being expanded into three films needn’t worry. At least, not yet. At nearly three hours Peter Jackson justifies its length with many twists and turns, including one with the already familiar Elven home of Rivendell, and drawn out battle scenes that are truly exciting. If there’s anything bogging down the film, it’s that it just doesn’t pack the excitement The Lord of the Rings films had. Perhaps it’s because those were fresh, the films were triumphant in many ways from the technicalities of the film to the breadth of their stories. The Hobbit, while surely breathtaking in many ways, doesn’t pack the same punch anymore. Or maybe it’s because Frodo’s crisis affected the entirety of Middle Earth, the fate of the world was actually on his shoulders. In The Hobbit, only a small group of people are affected. Most likely, it’s really a combination of the two. Whereas the originals were sweeping epics about saving the world, The Hobbit, at its core, is really just a fun adventure story. There’s hardly anything wrong with that, it just lacks the stature of Jackson’s previous trilogy.

Finally, the film is being presented in 48fps (frames per second), the first ever. Normal film projection is 24fps, but Jackson argues that 48 quite literally doubles the fun. Unfortunately, it seemed to actually detract from the film. In the era of HDTVs and ultra-reality, many will argue that getting TOO real can be bad thing. And in the case of The Hobbit, that’s true. Much of the film is too clear, robbing it of any visual ambiance and making it feel like it has the production value of a theme park ride. Daylight scenes are over bright and actually distance the human actors from their mostly fake (computer generated) surroundings. Really, it makes the film seem as if it was shot on a handheld HD video camera without any thought for a visual look.

Fans of the Jackson’s original trilogy will definitely have fun with this one but it’s unlikely to draw in any new fans. Whether this new series matches up to those remains to be seen, but 24fps is the recommended way to find out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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