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EW Movie Review: "The Hobbit"

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Director Peter Jackson's long awaited return to Middle-earth, "The Hobbit," is finally in theaters. Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman filed the following report for NY1.

Peter Jackson’s "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was nine hours of movie based on three massive fantasy novels. So you may wonder: How is it that Jackson’s version of "The Hobbit" is adapted from a single, relatively short novel published by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1937, yet it’s going to be three epic movies?

The cynical answer is that there’s a pile of gold to be made by stretching out The Hobbit to event status. Yet the real answer may be that it doesn’t matter how long the books are. "The Hobbit," like "Lord of the Rings," has a plot that basically comes down to the following: a fellowship of the noble-hearted gather together for a quest! And then they wander! And wander some more! And they do battle! And then some more wandering and battling! Welcome back, folks, to Middle Earth, the fantasy that never ends.

In this case, the hero is Bilbo Baggins, and I have to say, as played by the English actor Martin Freeman, he’s a more engaging and multi-faceted hero than Elijah Wood’s solemnly gawky Frodo. Bilbo is basically a middle-class tea-time gentleman who wants nothing to do with adventure. So from the moment, he’s recruited by Ian McKellan’s Gandalf to join a band of 13 dwarves, who are setting out to reclaim their lost kingdom from the dragon Smowg, Bilbo’s whole nebbishy aura, his what-am-I-doing-here skittishness and polite fear, make him a winning representative for us armchair adventurers in the audience. As the tale ambles along, Bilbo has to become a warrior and a thief, and that can make a Hobbit grow up fast.

So how is "The Hobbit" as a movie? Overall, it’s less solemn, more noisy and creature-packed than the "Lord of the Rings" films. And that’s both a good thing and a not-so-good thing. The fights with Orcs and trolls are dazzling pieces of CGI choreography, but really, they’re not so different from what you’d see in a "Clash of the Titans" film.

In select theaters, The Hobbit is showing in a version shot at 48 frames per second, and the startlingly bright and clear images, which look a little too much like high definition TV, kind of take the mystery out of Middle-earth.They just emphasize that The Hobbit is well-done for what it is, which is that it’s already the theme-park version of itself.

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