The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Dir: Peter Jackson

Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage & Andy Serkis

It’s been a long and difficult road adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal book, The Hobbit, for the big screen. When Guillermo Del Toro quit the helm citing production delays, its future was up in the air. Peter Jackson came to the rescue offering the obvious benefits of a safe pair of hands, experience and continuity. The question on everyone’s lips was, would it live up to the Lord of the Rings trilogy? The answer is, kind of.

Bilbo Baggins’ (Freeman) peaceful life in The Shire is thrown into disarray when the wizard Gandalph (McKellen) arrives, shortly followed by a rag-tag band of Dwarves lead by the moody Thorin (Armitage). The group must go on a quest to reclaim their lost homeland, but its success will depend on the actions of an unlikely hero as they start their journey to the Lonely Mountain. Will our hair-footed friend have the courage and strength to prevail?

Much of the talk running up to the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had centred on the 48fps debate. Call me old fashioned, but I’m far more interested in the film itself rather than any technical issues surrounding it. I chose to watch it in 2D, in traditional framing at the Showroom in order to avoid being distracted (although I’ll probably try and sneak a peak at the higher framing at some stage). Another issue has been Jackson’s decision to split the book into three parts. It’s difficult to find any justification for this on the face of it. The e-book only runs to 11 hours, so at almost 8 hours, the trilogy seems a bit excessive.

It’s incredibly difficult to watch this without finding yourself harking back to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. This isn’t helped by Jackson’s tendency to add bits in to link up the two (the beginning scenes may be nice, but I’m not sure precisely what they add to the story), Personally, I wanted to try and enjoy this one as a separate entity, but the constant referencing makes it almost impossible. The Rivendell scene is pretty cringe worthy (hmmm, I’m suspicious about Sauramon also) and just feels out of place. He also seems happy to take liberties with the dialogue, some of which is beneficial, but other bits are pretty dreadful (chips?). The film has many aspects which will make it more “children friendly” than the other ones; bringing to mind the Star Wars prequels and Harry Potter films on occasion.

However, it doesn’t feel as stretched as you would assume, and actually ends at an auspicious point. It looks incredible (as we’ve come to expect) and there are many moments of inspiration (the casting of Sylvester McCoy and the whole Greenwood sequence is brilliant) and the “riddle” scene is beautifully done. Indeed the new rendering of Gollum is pretty awe inspiring and takes the technology to another level. Martin Freeman looks like he was born for the role of Bilbo Baggins in what is a truly inspired piece of casting, and the acting in general feels a notch above what has gone before. There is some outstanding cinematography and framing of scenes, with much needed humour in some of the darker moments.

However, on the whole it’s an impressive piece of film-making and very enjoyable. On this evidence, the source material may not warrant three films, but if they are all up to this standard, it seems churlish to complain.