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True Beauty

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit" in 1937, just before Word War II. Actually, the original title was "The Hobbit: There and Back Again," a child's adventure story, a narrative that is straightforward and linear and lighthearted in tone. As is Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Granted there are moments in the film that could have benefited from some cautious editing; however, it is a marvel of filmmaking, relying on the power of myth and folklore to fashion what will be for many a compelling experience.

The story opens with Bilbo Baggins, the elder (Ian Holmes), writing his story about an unexpected adventure that took place some 60 years past. We soon see young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) being asked by a bevy of dwarfs, aided by Gandalf (Ian McKellan), to join them in their quest to return home to Lonely Mountain, a place from which they were driven by an enormous dragon that now stands guard over not only the mountain but a fortune in gold.

Bilbo refuses, insisting he is content with his life, surrounded by all that is familiar. Gandolf, not dissuaded, tells him, "The World is not in your books and maps. It's out there."

Of course, Bilbo, struck by Gandolf's words, relents and soon finds himself taking a journey that he never could have imagined. He meets along the way cannibal trolls, a subterranean kingdom of goblins, red-eyed wolves (aka Wargs), plus giant, anthropomorphic rocks doing battle. And then this unlikely band of brothers visits the enchanted Elven outpost, Rivendell.

At each moment of crisis, at each point in this hazardous and often dark pilgrimage toward Lonely Mountain, Bilbo faces his limitations, struggles with his fears and feelings of inadequacies, and is surprised at his unexpected heroism. Thus the tale uses the familiar template found in so many children's fables and fairy tales wherein the hero rises to meet the challenge and, in the end, prevails.

What is remarkable about this film is that it is not only replete with beautifully imagined characters and creatures, it is filled with wonder, realized through state-of-the-art filmmaking. Jackson once again demonstrates that there is a middle earth of imagination from whence he extracts moments that will enthrall and captivate older children, teens, dedicated fans of Tolkien and those who simply love movies.

And while "An Unexpected Journey" may be faulted for being overly long, its synergistic intensity never falters. As well, it might be considered one of the most visually beautiful fantasy films ever made, simple yet complex, stunning in its photography — New Zealand beckons — and a fine prelude to what lies ahead.


In 1959, Robert Bloch wrote the novel "Psycho," chronicling the story of Ed Gein, a serial killer. It was rejected by Hollywood producers as being too violent, the subject unsuited for the staid audiences of the time.

Coming off of his hit, "North by Northwest," Hitchcock was captivated by the story, wishing to do something dark and edgy. Unable to convince Paramount Studios to finance the movie, he mortgaged his house, hired a writer, and began making this improbable film.

Essentially, that's "Hitchcock": a character study of a man who was considered to be a genius, a man who made, in retrospect, some of the most intriguing and anxiety-driven films of his era ("Vertigo" recently bumped "Citizen Kane" in a critics' poll commissioned for Sight and Sound).

The problem with "Hitchcock," other than it's not particularly engaging, is that it relies too heavily on the melding of genius with psychopathology. Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins) is presented as unbalanced, lecherous, and tormented to the point of communing with Ed Gein (an unnecessary conceit in the film), as well as being obsessed with his blonde leading ladies.

The prostheses necessary for Hopkins to become Hitchcock — both facial and girth — are often a distraction as is his portrayal, bordering, at times, on caricature.

Helen Mirren delivers a fine performance as Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville, a partner not only in marriage but also in filmmaking. A talented woman, she tempers her husband's volatile personality and is, in many ways, far more interesting than is Hitchcock — her own genius regrettably disguised.

— Chris Honoré