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REVIEW: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A)
AFTER a long and tumultuous development process, director Peter Jackson returns to the world of JRR Tolkien to helm this adaptation of the author’s much shorter (300 pages ish) novel, The Hobbit.
I say shorter, but Jackson, the Kiwi visionary who transformed Tolkien’s supposedly unfilmable The Lord of the Rings trilogy into magnificent Oscar-winning movies, and his team have managed to turn a compact tale into three separate full length films.
This underwhelming presentation of the earlier adventures of a hobbit from the Shire utilises some of his old cast and a lot of the same tricks – plus some fancy new ones – to bring to life myriad characters (played by an exhausting roster of British and Irish talent), locations and mythical creatures.
The first thing that fans will notice is one of the aforementioned tricks, namely Jackson’s filming in 48 frames per second in 3D. This new rate really does change the visual style of the project, sweeping rapidly in and out of the spectacular vistas, and takes a while to adapt to in close up. Personally, I hated it, much preferring the classic look of LoTR.
An Unexpected Journey weighs in at 169 minutes, and harks back to The Fellowship of the Ring as it tries to clearly set the foundation of all that’s to come, rather than stick to Tolkien’s original, perfectly simple introduction. It opens as an older Bilbo (Ian Holm) narrates a complex tale of dwarvish downfall which culminates when, to cut a long story short, their king got greedy, hoarded gold and as a result, they were targeted by the avaricious dragon Smaug, who promptly destroyed their city and took up residence in their mountain.
Incidentally, Smaug is estimated by Forbes magazine to be the world’s richest fictional character, weighing in with a wealth of $62bn, thanks largely to this theft.
Younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman, perfecting everyman bewilderment) then moves to take position centre stage, selected as the 14th member of a troupe of adventurers who have been encouraged by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) in their quest to reclaim their homeland. And it is made clear that central here is the story arc of Thorin (Richard Armitage), the rightful leader of the dwarves who wishes to avenge his forefathers.
As the script of Jackson and co – including Guillermo Del Toro, once on board to direct – has tinkered with the book’s plotting to create three supposedly separate and satisfying film entities, in addition to reacquainting ourselves with Elrond, we’re also presented with Galadriel, Saruman and Radagast the brown (Sylvester McCoy), stone giants battling it out, plus a glimpse of the Necromancer and his giant spiders.
It is best not to fret about who’s who between Borin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Bombur, Bifur and Bofur as their identities are not clearly defined. Jimmy Nesbitt stands out as the comic relief, as does Ken Stott as a sage experienced warrior.
Some forced additional dialogue attempts to ramp up the tension between Bilbo and Thorin, but the script has had no need to alter the film’s undoubted highlight, the return of the wonderful Gollum (Andy Serkis), who trades riddles with Bilbo in a terrific later section, impressive where some other scenes are surprisingly dull or anti-climactic.
Thank goodness for him and his precious, and what a shame that cinemagoers will be forced to wait a year, and fork out again, for what’s coming up, including Benedict Cumberbatch’s dulcet tones as Smaug.