Peter Jackson’s first installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s beloved The Hobbit is hitting theaters, and he’s bringing back some old friends and plenty of new ones.
Centering on the adventures of Bilbo Baggins 60 years prior to the events in Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings trilogy, we will once again meet Gandalf the Grey, a familiar figure to the hobbits of the Shire, but only by reputation. He has had his eyes on Bilbo for some time now, having been acquainted with his parents in years past, and has in his mind the idea to recruit him as a burglar in assistance to a group of 13 dwarves in claiming their long-lost treasure and reclaiming the Lonely Mountain where it is being kept. The journey is a long one for the hobbit, but he will come out a much wiser and learned man for it. The journey will be long for us too, make no mistake, because Jackson is playing into the ever-increasing sequel game.
Originally conceived as a two-parter that would also include stray bits of Tolkien’s mythology and additional stories culled from appendixes and other writings, The Hobbit was written by Jackson and his Rings co-writers Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh, as well as the man hired to direct early on, Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro eventually left the project as director due to near constant delays and bankruptcy troubles, and while his take would have been a most welcome breath of Middle Earth air, it was not to be. Jackson obviously did stay on and kept a brilliantly informative production diary that I would highly recommend to anyone interested. After the production concluded and the editing process had begun, he announced that he felt confident that he actually had enough footage to span the film into three parts. With the first being released on December 14 under the subtitle of An Unexpected Journey, we will then be able to catch The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again next Christmas and the following summer, respectively.
Of the old friends returning, we have many. Save for the editing department and sound mixers on the Rings’ final Oscar-sweeping installment, The Return of the King, the bulk of that film’s creative team are back. The only actor ever nominated for their part in the original trilogy, Ian McKellen, is back as well and I can only imagine that they are framing the film within the context of the prior trilogy since a bunch of old cast members are joining as well. Amongst those other returning cast members are Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, and of course Ian Holm, playing the elder Bilbo. Playing the young Bilbo is newcomer Martin Freeman, himself no stranger to the genre culture, having played Arthur Dent in the excellent Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as well as Dr. Watson on the BBC smash hit Sherlock. Joining him as the 13 dwarves are a plethora of BBC veterans, lead by Richard Armitage as the king Thorin Oakenshield.
If you are lucky enough to catch the film at a theater set up to play it at its intended 48 frames per second, I would recommend it. While many have reported experiencing minor discomfort if not slight, albeit brief, nausea, I feel it is worth noting that James Cameron is seriously considering filming his next two Avatar movies with the new frame rate in mind. The Hobbit will be the first feature shot in the 48 format, which is an increase from the standard 24. The decision to shoot at the higher frame rate was established early on in pre-production when Jackson came to notice that with the decreased motion blur inherent, the film’s 3D visuals were also greatly improved and more defined.
For anybody interested in catching the opening 9 minutes of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness, they will be screening before The Hobbit on select IMAX screens.
Whatever frame rate, dimension, or format you are able to catch it in, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will open nationwide this Thursday, at midnight.
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