Review of reviews ... The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

by Toby Manhire / 10 December, 2012
The embargo is over, the reviews are in. Now updated with verdicts from UK papers.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Photograph: Warner Bros


Read the review by the Listener's David Larsen here.


Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

But the heart of the problem — at least when it comes to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film in the new trilogy — is that all of Lord of the Rings' success led to a series of choices made for The Hobbit, including the decision to push the new 48-frames-per-second technology, known as high frame rate, as the preferred format, that have not worked out for the best. The result is a film that is solid and acceptable instead of soaring and exceptional, one unnecessarily hampered in its quest to reach the magical heights of the trilogy.


Ty Burr, Boston Globe

An Unexpected Journey feels like an overproduced amble — and a familiar amble at that — next to the earlier trilogy’s epic myth-making. Is it possible to have been spoiled by the rich vision of The Lord of the Rings (not to mention all the films that have imitated it since) — the awe-inspiring New Zealand fantasyscapes, the muscular CGI evocation of faerie, the crashing battle lines of Orcs? The Hobbit feels like the latest thing, but it never feels new.


Lou Lumenick, New York Post 3/4

The initial installment of an anticipated nine-hour trilogy  ... certainly piles on enough eye candy and action sequences to please fans, plus more humour than the three “Rings” films — even if it only occasionally achieves the trio’s grandeur.


Peter Bradshaw, Guardian 3/5

After 170 minutes I felt that I had had enough of a pretty good thing. The trilogy will test the stamina of the non-believers, and many might feel, in their secret heart of hearts, that the traditional filmic look of Lord of the Rings was better. But if anyone can make us love the new epically supercharged HFR Hobbit, it's Peter Jackson.


Robbie Collin, Daily Telegraph 2/5

This film is so stuffed with extraneous faff and flummery that it often barely feels like Tolkien at all – more a dire, fan-written internet tribute. The book begins with the unimprovable ten-word opening sentence: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.” Jackson, by contrast, starts with an interminable narrative detour about a mining operation run by a team of dwarfs, involving magic crystals, orc armies and details of dwarf family trees that are of interest, at this early stage in what is supposed to be a family film, to almost nobody ...  As a lover of cinema, Jackson’s film bored me rigid; as a lover of Tolkien, it broke my heart.


Chris Tookey, Daily Mail 3/5

New Zealand has never looked more impressive and, like its predecessors, The Hobbit will do wonders for the local tourist industry ...

There’s no denying the film is a huge technical achievement and that the action set pieces are, at times, astonishing. I just wish it was more emotionally engaging and had a lot more story-telling momentum.


Kate Muir, Times (£)

Running at almost three hours, this may stretch small children’s attention spans, and the periodic goblin beheading, though not bloody, is rather grim. The 3-D is so relentless that my eyes watered from two hours on. I was rather dreading The Hobbit — and I speak as someone who has staged a full re-enactment of The Lord of the Rings in one hour at a party with 12 children — but the film kept me entertained.


Geoffrey McNab, Independent 3/5

There is a suspicion that the producers have cut a sandwich into three that could easily have been served up in two slices. Even so, audiences are bound to eat it up and come back for more. Jackson’s Tolkein adptations have almost a cult appeal among their devotees while newcomers looking for cinematic spectacle over the Christmas period won’t feel too badly short-changed either


Mark Adams, Mirror

An epic tale of dwarves, orcs, wizards, elves and hobbits, this return to the wonderful and dangerous land of Middle Earth is a triumph of breathtaking special effects and sublime storytelling.

Dana Stevens, Slate

When I heard Jackson was taking on The Hobbitas a three-parter, my first thought wasn’t to snicker at his hubris but to look forward to the chance to spend more time in Middle Earth. More time in Middle Earth is exactly what The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey provides—so much more that the movie starts to feel like some Buddhist exercise in deliberately inflicted tedium ... An Unexpected Journey, which was scripted by Jackson, his partner Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro, vastly overestimates its audience’s need to witness every micro-bump in the road to Erebor. It provides service for the hardcore Tolkien-head, but no foothold for the casual fan.

Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

I have no desire to deprive people of the joy of reentering Jackson’s Middle-earth, believe me. But I am advising you to keep your expectations modest, and confessing that to my taste this new trilogy gets off to a sour, soggy, bumbling start ... Along with his legions of fans, Jackson is apparently now convinced that he and his team of collaborators (the writers are Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Jackson and del Toro) possess a Joseph Smith-like relationship with Tolkien’s spirit and are uniquely qualified to transfer his visions to the big screen. Ironically or not, this has resulted in a gargantuan new project that takes enormous liberties with the source material. This is a sprawling, shambling, full-length prequel to Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings,” but not so much to Tolkien’s.


Peter DeBruge, Variety

Fulfilling just a fraction of JRR Tolkien's "There and Back Again" subtitle, The Hobbit alternately rewards and abuses audiences' appetite for all things Middle-earth. While Peter Jackson's prequel to The Lord of the Rings delivers more of what made his earlier trilogy so compelling - colourful 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, dubbed "An Unexpected Journey." The primary advance here is technical, as Jackson shoots in high-frame-rate 3D, an innovation that improves motion at the expense of visual elegance.


Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter

In Jackson's academically fastidious telling ... it's as if The Wizard of Oz had taken nearly an hour just to get out of Kansas. There are elements in this new film that are as spectacular as much of the Rings trilogy was, but there is much that is flat-footed and tedious as well, especially in the early going.


Tim Grierson, Screen Daily

The Hobbit may ultimately be more about its spectacle than it is about any emotional stakes, but Jackson is so adept that his grand vision sweeps you up all the same.


Rodrigo Perez, IndieWire B+

As epic, grandiose, and emotionally appealing as the previous pictures, The Hobbit doesn’t stray far from the mold, but it’s a thrilling ride that’s one of the most enjoyable, exciting and engaging tentpoles of the year.


Hugh Hart, Wired 8/10

Anybody who saw Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King knows director Peter Jackson likes a long ending. He also digs long beginnings. It’s a good 15 minutes before the opening line of JRR Tolkien’s novel The Hobbit kicks in, but by the time we get to “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit,” one thing is already crystal clear: The movie looks like nothing you’ve seen before.

In the 48-frames-per-second version of Hobbit, Middle-earth in 3D looks so crisp it’s like stepping into the foreground of an insanely gorgeous diorama. The film will also be released at the standard 24 fps, but Jackson sees the high-speed format as the “premium version” of his vision because it essentially doubles the amount of visual data projected onto the screen. At 48 fps, images appear more precise and 3D action becomes smoother, without the blur that can occur when the camera pans too quickly or objects move rapidly across the frame.


Russell Baillie, New Zealand Herald 4.5/5

The first thing you see at the start of An Unexpected Journey, is the lighting of a candle as an older Bilbo recalls his adventurous days in flash-forward to the LOTR era. Maybe the implied question is: can The Hobbit hold a candle to what's gone before? This first movie, at least, offers a resounding yes.


Graeme Tuckett, Dominion Post 4/5

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a huge and impressive spectacle. As the first third of an epic, it does everything it needs to do. The characters are introduced, the stakes are established, and there is a promise of far darker material to come.


Julie Scherer, 4.5/5

Great cast, great special effects and great entertainment. Yes, Peter Jackson is back at his game, and I can't wait to see if he keeps it up in what's to come.


Katey Rich, Cinema Blend 4/5

When Jackson took on The Hobbit after Guillermo del Toro dropped it in 2010, it seemed like an obligation more than the passion that drove him to make the original trilogy. But for its occasional moments of excess and unhurried pace, An Unexpected Journey is 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.


Shawn Adler, Movieline

Like Bilbo reflecting on his long path from The Shire and what it means to fight for a place to call your own, however, returning to Middle Earth feels right. And if it doesn't quite soar as high in transformative joy or ecstasy as we thought it might… it's still home.


Matt Patches,

The film has its moments of shock — if the kids are too young for a good ol' fashioned Orc beheading, An Unexpected Journey is not for them — but in the end, it aims to be the fantasy read, played and explored in the imaginations of people of all ages. A fresh, free-spirited form of fantasy, Jackson's latest provides a younger generation with the right kind of stepping stone to his later films, while serving the adults who want more


Jordan Hoffman, Screen Crush 5/10

People interested in tech should see ‘An Unexpected Journey’ in 48fps (which is being marketing as HFR 3D). People just looking to see a great movie should just see it in 24. Of course, anyone looking for a great movie will be disappointed. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, despite its many gimmicks, is just an okay movie.


Garry Maddox, Sydney Morning Herald 4/5

Some fans may resent the liberties with the novel, some might not go for Radagast's eccentricities, but An Unexpected Journey has so many pay-offs that most are likely to re-engage with the saga. Reaching just a third of the way through Tolkien's novel, Jackson has given himself room to flesh out the story over the next two instalments.


Darren Bevan, TVNZ 4/5

Magical, majestic, mystical and utterly masterful, The Hobbit is an enthralling,engrossing and unmissable return to Middle Earth (especially if you're a committed LOTR fan). I can't wait to go There and Back Again with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug next year.


Samantha Hayes, TV3 4.5/5

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is almost three hours long but I was left wanting more - partly because the story is unfinished and partly because it’s such a visual feast.

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