Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett
Written by: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro and (book) J.R.R. Tolkien
Running Time: 169 mins
Release date: 13th December 2013
Sometimes reviewing a film that has already had so much written about it is hard. You still have to go in with an open mind and take it for what it is. The Hobbit is possibly the most difficult review I have ever had to do because I went in genuinely scared. Having sat through the whole of The Lord of the Ring trilogy (a series of films I liked but didn’t go overboard on them as I did find myself bored in many places) the thought of another Tolkien epic did make me feel uneasy, although the size of the source material was a lot shorter and this was at the time when there was only going to be two movies. Then that dreaded announcement came. Three very long, 2 and a half hours plus movies al la LOTR. Then the reviews started happening. It’s too long, it drags, it’s boring. Oh no. Then the second thing about this new cinematic experience…HFR. 48 frames per second compared to the usual 24. Stories of people suffering from motion sickness and vomiting watching this 3D ultra high definition film did not bode well at all, considering I can’t watch shaky cameras without feeling sick for a week. Luckily, my fears shouldn’t have taken me over, for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was a better experience than I thought it would be.
60 years before Frodo and his band went off with a certain ring, quiet and stable Bilbo Baggins, who enjoys nothing more than sitting around smoking his pipe, is invited by the great Gandalf the Wizard to join an adventure. The last surviving dwarvess, having lost their home during a battle with Oracs, must try to reclaim their land, The Lonely Mountains, from a dragon that has taken residence there. First off, they must travel to this area, encountering all kinds of dangers along the way, from Trolls, Elves, Goblins and an old yet deadly friend.
The rumours are absolutely right. This is a long film. A VERY long film. Peter Jackson is determined to draw out every single page of the book (and add some of his own in as well) and yes, it needs to have some of the fat trimmed off. I’m not saying a complete hatchet job, just some of the scenes do outstay their welcome and are a little more than dull. Surprisingly for me, most have said the opening section when we are first introduced to the dwarves but I didn’t mind that, it was the rambling scenic sequences of mountains and valleys (there seem to be a lot of walking going on) and the scene with the elves did feel a struggle to keep going with.
The other problem for me was the HFR. The trouble is, it looks like you are watching a very expensive TV show on the biggest TV in the world. Everything is so sharp, so precise that it loses the feel for it being a film. The other problem is that at the beginning, very seems speeded up and it take a long time to adjust to it. It has been introduced to help enhance the 3D, which, if I am being honest, doesn’t work and is totally unnecessary.
On the plus side, when Jackson gets it right, he gets it right big time. The epic scale of the adventure is there for all to see. It looks magnificent from start to finish and the battle with the goblins is both funny and exciting and mouth-watering to look at.
Casting wise, it is spot on. Apart from the return of Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchett as elf Galadriel and Hugo Weaving as Elrond, the new cast are superb. Martin Freeman was born to play Bilbo, with a dizzy mix of vulnerability and naivety while managing to mix comedy with straight at the blink of an eye. This will make him a huge star and deservedly so. Leading the dwarves, Richard Armitage as Thorin is perfect, being both heroic and commanding respect and along with the almost unrecognisable Ken Stott and James Nesbitt as Derek Smalls (Spinal Tap fans will know what I’m taking about), the dwarves are a terrific blend of funny and adventurous.
The star of the show, however, has to be the return of Gollum. Andy Serkis’s computer generated creation had the whole audience gasping in anticipation and when he finally did arrive, the film was catapulted into brilliance. The whole scene between Gollum and Bilbo will go down in cinematic history as one of the best, in which the two try to outwit each other with riddles. The genius behind Gollum’s features have really upped their game, giving him more character, more expression and even bigger eyes. It is a masterclass of using a computer generated character and pushing the boundaries.
Many will say that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn’t a patch on the LOTR trilogy but even though I did find myself drifting in places, I enjoyed this more than, say The Fellowship Of The Rings and we now know that from this point on, there shouldn’t be too much sitting around talking but plenty of action as the group get ever closer to their destination. Not the epic that many people thought it would be and not the disaster that I thought it might be. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I liked it…my precious!