Tomatometer Watch: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Much has occurred since the announcement of a Hobbit adaptation up to its theatrical release next Friday, an unexpected journey of expanding movies (from two to three), abandonment (Guillermo del Toro, who spent two years on the project before jetting for the Pacific Rim), and the return of an old wise friend in the director's chair: Peter Jackson.

Nearly a decade earlier, Jackson had done the unthinkable and filmed J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, a trilogy as beloved as it is sprawling and mythic. The "unfilmable" work proved anything but for Jackson, our Middle-earth tour guide of unstoppable zeal, aided by his wonderful cast. Box office returns and 30 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture win for The Return of the King) confirmed his daring vision to be true.

And now Jackson returns with his presentation of a story set 60 years before the Tolkien legend, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
The early critical returns for The Hobbit, however, are disappointing for moviegoers wishing for the same numbers as the LotR trilogy. Each of those films were Certified Fresh, none dipping below 90%. The Hobbit is still within striking distance of hitting Certified Fresh (details of the award here), but will have to work for it. Elevation into the mid-80s Tomatometer range seems highly unlikely at this point, but Jackson has weaved strange magic before.

"It really does seem like fate that Jackson would be the filmmaker who ended up making the films, since I can't imagine what they would have looked like shot anywhere besides New Zealand. The way they blend the real and the unreal is seamless at this point, and there are some remarkable images in the film, some remarkable places." (Drew McWeeny, Hitfix)

Praise is given to how the universe has been brought back to life, the trip this time more leisurely, less packed with plot and, like before, without pretension. It's about coming back to a place of fond memories after a long time away.

"Like Bilbo reflecting on his long path from The Shire and what it means to fight for a place to call your own, 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." (Shawn Adler, Movieline)

But for detractors, the scope of the film weighs heavily. Passages that were mere sentences in the books are blown up to entire scenes, stretching out an already light story. And making three films instead of two has drawn comparisons to another prequel trilogy.

"Is An Unexpected Journey better than The Phantom Menace? Easily, yes - it would take a real effort to make it worse - though the appearance of the wizard Radagast, a flight Dr. Dolittle, has stirred the unhappy memory of Jar Jar Binks." (Richard Corliss, TIME Magazine)

Top Critics particularly are left unimpressed, with only one of five stamping down a fresh rating. Jackson opting to shoot in 48 frames has also been an issue.

"Instead of feeling like we've been transported to Middle-earth, it's as if we've dropped in on Jackson's New Zealand set, trapped in an endless 'making of' documentary, waiting for the real movie to start," states Scott Foundas of Village Voice.

"For the record, I returned to see The Hobbit a second time, at 24 frames, and found it more aesthetically pleasing but no more dramatically engaging. At any speed, the movie only springs to full life late in the day, during the first meeting of Bilbo and the tragic creature who will come to be known as Gollum."

Audiences remain unfazed in the face of less than perfect reception, with 95% of over 145,000 site users anticipating release. How much are you looking forward to The Hobbit? Does your anticipation remain unswayed?

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. is in theaters worldwide next week.

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