Review: 'Hobbit' movie more interesting than story itself

Director Jackson makes history with release

Perhaps if there was nothing to compare it to, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" would be a triumph of filmmaking, CGI at its finest, a world of wizards, dwarves, trolls and other fascinating fairy tale creatures that spring off the page of a J.R.R. Tolkien novel and on to the big screen.

The most glaring problem, however, with Peter Jackson's latest Tolkien transfer is the foundation on which it is built. Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit" in 1937 from what began as a children's bedtime story, and it is from this that the masterwork "The Lord of the Rings" was launched. "The Hobbit" is a lightweight story and somewhat goofy at times (like a too-long scene in the film when the dwarves take over Bilbo's house for their come together meeting, eating him out of house and home and basically wrecking his personal sanctuary).

Jackson started his Tolkien film series with the heavyweights, "Rings" and "Return of the King," and now goes back to "The Hobbit," which he'll release in three parts. "The Hobbit" covers events that precede the aforementioned tales.

The adventure follows the journey of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (a perfectly cast Martin Freeman), who is recruited by wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to help 13 dwarves who survived the destruction of their beloved homeland reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. While the hobbit prefers the safety of his comfortable hobbit hole, he's due for an adventure. But only after some coaxing does he join the dwarves on a journey into the wild, where they encounter trolls, sorcerers, gigantic wolves and hostile elves. At least more than half of the movie is some sort of battle scene or another, and there's a lot of hiking by the hobbit and dwarves (hi-ho, hi-ho) over computer-generated mountains.

It is on this adventure, however, that Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever, Gollum (Andy Serkis), and, where Bilbo gains possession of a precious gold ring, which is so crucial in "The Lord of the Rings." For Tolkien fans, Gollum's appearance is vital, especially since he's 60 years younger than in "Rings." Serkis, whose Gollum performance is enhanced by cutting edge digital technology, will most likely not be considered for an Oscar due to the help of the computers, but he gets my vote in the Best Supporting Actor category. His hyperactive cave dweller is worth sitting through the 167 minute film.

Despite its shortcomings, it's difficult not to be dazzled by Jackson's artistry. "The Hobbit" will go down in film history as being the first movie to be shot at 48 frames per second (fps), which projects 48 individual static shots every second, and offers the brain twice as much visual information than the standard 24 fps. Most moviegoers won't see the 48 fps version -- in all of North America only about 450 theaters will be projecting "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" in 48 fps (the screening I attended was 3-D, but not 48 fps). Reviews are mixed from those who have seen this extremely high-definition version that the picture is so clear that the make up on the actors is visible and that movie sets actually look like sets, which takes away the "cinematic magic." Still, Jackson's dedication and deft direction never ceases to amaze. He's always been world's ahead (does anyone remember his film "Heavenly Creatures?").

The second part, "The Hobbit: There And Back Again," has already been slated for a December 2013 release. Maybe by then 48 fps will be an industry standard.