the hobbit - unexpected journey [DVD version]
for me, this kind of worked better as a film than peter jackson's earlier efforts for the simple reason that it's much more of a straight-ahead story. also, i thought the material they worked in from the LOTR appendices worked perfectly, i.e. the backstory of azog and the dwarf - orc feud.
the inevitable rash of changes and manipulations to the story were expected and didn't bother me too much until the end, when jackson has bilbo single-handedly saving thorin from beheading. please... bad jackson, bad!
probably the biggest critique i have of the film is that it pretty much just followed the previous LOTR template of storytelling, cinematography and melodrama instead of going for more of the real spirit of the hobbit... which was a mostly a light-hearted and charming story. no, this thing is more about selling blockbuster tickets and drawing out the big film moments with the added speeches, surplus cameos and misty-eyed moments. still, that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone, so i will therefore STFU about it.
moving on, i thought the cast worked well... martin freeman in particular. he was pretty much doctor watson wearing a wig, but it worked just fine. whoever played the old orc lord had the scene-stealing role of the movie... and the humor was very much needed. (could we get more of that, please?) ian mckellan was of course a locked choice for gandalf, but his world-weariness and seriousness didn't fit this film as well as it did the other ones. i think someone in the style of john huston (who you can hear below) would have been somewhat better.
also, it's too bad they decided not to license some of the song gems from the 1977 hobbit film, which as a film was indeed pretty weak. still, the songs themselves were whimsical and excellent and fit the material really well instead of just sounding like encores from howard shore's LOTR score. examples--
misty mountains cold / gandalf's reflection.
this is the song the dwarves sing the first night at bilbo's.
this also got used in the beginning of LOTR as gandalf's walking song:
this follows the true book version of what happened when the goblins and wargs cornered the group, high in the trees:
RATING: 3/4 stars.
if you're a tolkien and/or film purist you're probably going to have even more quibbles than with jackson's LOTR movies. if you're more casual about all that, which most people will be... then this should be a perfectly good, long movie experience... just about the same quality and style as the others.