Simon Ramshaw’s review published on Letterboxd:
Film #24 in Driver’s December Death Penalty AKA The December Project , which is part of Cinebro's The December Challenge. 1 month, 100 movies.
"All great stories deserve embelishment." - Gandalf
I SIMPLY CANNOT WRITE ANYTHING SENSIBLE HERE. SO, FASTEN YOUR SEATBELTS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN; DRIVER HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED BACK INTO A SEVEN YEAR OLD CHILD.....
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH, WOWEEEEEEEEEE!!! BEST FILM EVER, MAM!!!! MAAAAAMM!!! TAKE ME BACK IN!!!!
No, seriously, calm down. I can't write a review like that, so...
I'm so satisfied with this movie. I don't care that it was nearly three hours and felt longer; that's a good thing. Because when you've got a prequel to Lord of the Rings that is as epic (if not more so) than the originals, why the hell are you complaining?
We start with a quiet couple of minutes in the Shire with the familiar faces of Old Bilbo and Frodo to accompany us. However, this calmness soon ends and we flashback to something that Peter Jackson has never shown us; the thriving Dwarven halls of old, complete with endless caverns and jewels beyond your wildest imaginings. This marks An Unexpected Journey as a different beast to the original trilogy, and this is certainly no bad thing.
My biggest worry for this was how they were going to introduce the 13-strong Dwarven characters without making the story clunky and clumsy. But this is swiftly dealt with, making us entirely comfortable with this entirely new supporting cast. But this is also where I make my only serious complaint about the film: not every Dwarf is a developed character. For example, all poor fat Bombur has to do in the entire duration of the film is catch a boiled egg in his mouth and break a table in Rivendell. Is this doing justice to Stephen Hunter, who bothered to brave the extensive shoot of all three movies and be granted with a character? No.
But enough about the Dwarves, let's look at our hero. Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo, so much so that it's hard to imagine anyone else as the younger version of Ian Holm's old-timer. He's funny, courageous and, most importantly, brings a whole lot of heart to the role.
Ian McKellen reprises Gandalf with as much twinkle and magic as we're used to from him, while Richard Armitage has gravitas and genuine heroism as the leader of the Dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. But the real star is not an on-screen one, but one behind the camera. Peter Jackson reconstructs Middle Earth and takes us to undiscovered territory, not dallying in the Shire for long. The Misty Mountains are a highlight, but again, the Dwarven halls are some of the most beautifully realised CGI I've EVER seen. It really filled me with genuine glee to see the wealthy Dwarves striding around their vaults and caves, something that can be collectively known as a 'nerdgasm'.
Jackson also presents the action on a breathtaking scale too. The flashback sequence where the Dwarves fight for the Mines of Moria is really something special, and the battle between the Stone Giants is on a disgracefully epic scale. If you thought the battle of the Fields of Pelenor in Return of the King was thrilling, you are in for probably the most brilliant thing committed to the screen in the history of cinema.
Howard Shore's score also fails to disappoint, and the creature designs are altered, but nonetheless amazing. AND ON THE WHOLE, IT'S ALL INCREDIBLE. THIS IS A STAGGERING FEAT OF FILMMAKING FROM A MASTER DIRECTOR, AND I'VE GOT THE CAPS LOCKS ON AGAIN. *SIGH* BUT WHO CARES? I LOVE THIS WITH EVERY INCH OF MY BEING. PLEASE GIVE ME THE SEQUEL. PLEASE. LIKE, NOW. AND SMAUG. DUDE, HE WAS BARELY IN IT, BUT...LIKE, WOW.