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Movies.ie Critic Review
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (USA/New Zealand/12A/169mins)
Directed by Peter Jackson. Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee.
THE PLOT: Once again, there is trouble afoot in Middle Earth, and the young Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) is more than a little surprised – and very, very reluctant - when the wise old wizard Gandalf (McKellan) chooses him as the burglar in his Ye Olde Ocean’s 13 heist gang. This unlikely band of dwarves are off to the Lonely Mountain, where they plan to reclaim treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug, and thus help exiled king Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) finally sit on the throne his father died for. Amongst those making their mission that little bit more difficult are some giant blue trolls, assorted orcs, a few oversized spiders and a nasty necromancer. Oh, and that bastard Saruman (Lee).
Ever since proving that bigger can be better with the original Lord Of The Rings trilogy, Peter, son of Bill, has been shedding the pounds whilst simultaneously letting his films become ever more bloated. He did it with his update of King Kong  and he did it again with his much-delayed adaptation of The Lovely Bones , both never-ending Weta dreams that proved, painfully, that more is sometimes less.
And Jackon’s done it again here, taking a 600-page book and turning it into - if this first near-three-hour installment is any indication - a nine-hour trilogy. How the hell was that allowed to happen?
Well, Warners were never going to put up much of a fight, the studio giant having benefited greatly when Potter started splitting his golden eggs in two.
The crushing length wouldn’t be a problem, of course, if An Unexpected Journey didn’t have other major glitches in the machine. Such as the much-hyped 48-frames-per-second (double the standard number), a new development that seems designed to bring stark, crystal realism to the visuals whilst also robbing cinematography of its inherent warmth and magic. Ironically, the hi-tech effect makes the footage here look like a PBS special on goblins and fairies. To quote Dolly Parton, it costs a lot of money to look this cheap.
And then there’s the fact that, as a director, Peter Jackson seems to have little or no sense of comic timing, as proven early on by a cluttered and contrived circus juggling act as Bilbo’s house is magically and musically cleaned up by his 13 unwelcome diminutive guests.
On the plus side, once we get the hell out of the silly shire and on with the mission, the action set pieces begin to shake off some of that early stiffness. Even then, at one point we get a shaky aerial shot of a chase sequence; you’d find better graphics on Super Mario Goes Medieval. Old familiar faces belonging to the likes of Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and even Elijah Wood appear to have been airbrushed to within an inch of a mass card too, whilst the scary monsters and super creeps on offer really aren’t all that scary, or super.
Of course, there are those who will no doubt find much comfort in all three Hobbit outings - from ye olde typeface to the Enya landscapes - no matter how bad the films themselves might actually be. And it’s not like we’re dealing with The Phantom Menace here. Or The Matrix sequels. It’s just that, well, these films are supposed to be magical. This, from the making to the marketing, feels largely mechanical. RATING: 3/5
Review by Paul Byrne