Released on Thursday in the UK and on Friday in North America, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey marks Peter Jackson's long awaited return to Middle-Earth. So, does the film live up to expectations and just how much of a difference does 48fps make? Hit the jump for my spoiler-free verdict!

It's hard to know what to review first; the movie itself or the 48 frames per second format which has for some reason been causing something of an uproar. Well, one can only assume that those who have criticised it are the same people who moaned about DVD's replacing VHS and Blu-ray's later (mostly) making that format obsolete too. After seeing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, it's clear that 48fps is the FUTURE of cinema and not just a gimmick like 3D (which is however used to great effect throughout). It may be a little jarring at first and there are perhaps a handful of scenes in which it feels as if what you're seeing is moving a little too fast, but it vastly improves the moviegoing experience as a whole. It just looks...better! A good comparison would be the difference between standard and high definition. It particularly pays off in action sequences - they've never looked better and imagining something like Marvel's The Avengers being shot like this is enough to make your mouth water. Middle-Earth (well, New Zealand) also looks stunning as the camera glides effortlessly over the stunning vistas. Ignore the naysayers and see this film as director Peter Jackson intended.

As for the film itself, if you didn't love The Lord of the Rings, it's unlikely that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will do much to change your opinion. Despite a lighter tone, this is still very much the same world and fans of the critically acclaimed trilogy will appreciate the many nods and references to them. The difference between that trilogy and this one is of course the fact that this is an adaptation of one book instead of three, so perhaps that's why it leaves you with the impression that it will make for a much better watch when viewed alongside There And Back Again and The Desolation Of Smaug. Occasionally feeling a little over-long (some scenes have a tendency to really drag), it has to be wondered if that's a result of two films being made into three. Regardless, the story that is told here is enjoyable and never gets boring. The humour sometimes feels out of place, but hits the mark far often than it misses. It's also fair to say that the main characters are all well-developed enough that the end of the film leaves them in a very different place to the start, while the scene that An Unexpected Journey ends on is the perfect way to build anticipation for the next chapter.

In terms of character work, it's mainly 'Bilbo Baggins' and 'Thorin Oakenshield' who get the spotlight. Martin Freeman, perhaps best known for his role as 'Dr. Watson' in the BBC series Sherlock, is perfect as the lead character. Bringing the exact right amount of humour and likeability to 'Bilbo', it's hard to imagine anyone else filling this role so perfectly. A stand out performance. Richard Armitage is also great, making 'Thorin' a complicated and thoroughly compelling presence onscreen. Ian McKelken ('Gandalf') is as reliable as ever in terms of quality, while the other returning cast members also impress. The major new additions are of course the band of dwarves, and it's unfortunate that some of them end up being so...forgettable! However, the likes of Aidan Turner ('Kili') and James Nesbitt ('Bofur') still impress and there is of course still another two films for us to get to know the rest of the gang a little better. Special mention goes to Andy Serkis as 'Gollum'. Despite only appearing for around ten minutes, he still manages to steal the show during a battle of riddles with 'Bilbo' which ultimately sets the stage for his role in the previous trilogy perfectly.

In terms of special effects. WETA has really outdone themselves with this one. Creations such as Barry Humphries' 'Great Goblin' and the three trolls just look unbelievably lifelike, making you wonder whether they truly are in fact digital creations or just incredibly convincing prosthetics. In terms of visual effects, it really is the most impressive release of 2012, while the various locations and battle sequences make this arguably the best looking take on J.R.R Tolkien's work yet. With The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Peter Jackson has for the most part truly excelled himself. Whether it's as good as the previous instalments in the franchise is an argument for another day, but it's certainly a wonderful and well-crafted adaptation of a book which ultimately couldn't be any more different to that trilogy. Middle-Earth without Howard Shore is like Star Wars without John Williams, so his rousing score here is a welcome (and thoroughly epic) addition. The film might not be perfect, but it really isn't that far off. We're back in Jackson's world and the next two instalments just can't get here soon enough.

Despite a few minor flaws, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a superb (and suitably epic) addition to Peter Jackson's past adaptations of Tolkien's work. See it in 3D and 48fps for the ultimate experience.

The adventure follows the journey of title character Bilbo Baggins, who is swept into an epic quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. Approached out of the blue by the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo finds himself joining a company of thirteen dwarves led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield. Their journey will take them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with Goblins and Orcs, deadly Wargs and Giant Spiders, Shapeshifters and Sorcerers.

Although their goal lies to the East and the wastelands of the Lonely Mountain first they must escape the goblin tunnels, where Bilbo meets the creature that will change his life forever…Gollum.

Here, alone with Gollum, on the shores of an underground lake, the unassuming Bilbo Baggins not only discovers depths of guile and courage that surprise even him, he also gains possession of Gollum’s "precious" ring that holds unexpected and useful qualities … A simple, gold ring that is tied to the fate of all Middle-earth in ways Bilbo cannot begin to know.


Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
Ian McKellen as Gandalf the Grey
Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Andy Serkis as Gollum
Hugo Weaving as Elrond
Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug
Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman
Christopher Lee as Saruman the White
Cate Blanchett as Galadriel
Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins
Orlando Bloom as Legolas

RELEASE DATE: December 14th, 2012.

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