Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

hobbit-poster

First off, happy New Year and I hope you had a happy Christmas…if you celebrate this, perhaps I should just say happy Holidays?! I shall start 2013 with a review of a film that’s been out for ages and, chances are, you’ve already seen.

After a long while in pre-production – a pause for Peter Jackson to take over after Guillermo Del Toro dropped the project and then a delay while they waited for Martin Freeman, who had landed a role in the BBC’s Sherlock series, to finish shooting – The first part of The Hobbit trilogy has been unleashed.

Originally it was supposed to be only two films but now, because Jackson is now back in control and it’s the last time he will get to make films about Middle-Earth, he has added so many scenes from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillian, The Hobbit saga has expanded to three films.

All this seemed to point to the fact that we are in for three more films over three hours long each…and I wasn’t far wrong. Clocking in at ten minutes  under three hours this is another long film with an even longer period of introduction as there are thirteen new characters to fathom. In fact this opening scene takes roughly half an hour while they all arrive, sing some songs and cause general mayhem in the repressed Hobbit’s house.

Although I didn’t find this as long as some, the opening 5-10 minutes felt more like an extended scene from a DVD extra. I didn’t see much point in having Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their characters from the LOTR films just to link the start of this trilogy to the start of the last. When the dwarves all finally turn up to the younger Bilbo’s (Freeman) house and sit down to their feast/meeting it all starts to gain momentum. Freeman was well worth the wait as the uptight, very British hobbit. He adopts Ian Holms mannerisms and actually progresses from a quivering wreck to someone who is able to cope with the adventure and action going on around him, much to the surprise of himself, let alone those around him,

The problem is that you only really find out a little about each of these characters and because they all have such similar names (Oin, Gloin, Kili, Fili, etc) it is really very difficult indeed to remember who any of them are, except Thorin Oakenshield, because he has a proper back story…and a surname! Though this is not Jackson’s  fault, more a problem with J.R.R. Tolkein’s poor characterisation skills.

The next complaint is that there was, once again, a load of wide shots of people trekking through impressive looking countryside. Great for the New Zealand tourist board, less so for cinema audiences expecting a good fight. In fact the battle set pieces are more underwhelming than I had anticipated and they seemed to follow a formula: Gandalf has had to go and consult with some other wizard/council, in the meantime  the dwarves and Bilbo have been surrounded/captured and placed in a seemingly inescapable situation, just when things look at their most hopeless Gandalf comes charging in to the rescue and they all run away. Again though, The Hobbit is a much lighter book penned many years and a World War from LOTR, so perhaps the fault can be laid at Tolkein’s door once more?

The final 40 minutes or so are the best of the film with Bilbo’s confrontation with Gollum (Andy Serkis), which came as a great relief as this such an iconic character, and the confrontation shortly afterwards between the group and a band of Orcs which almost sees the group’s destruction had it not been for Gandalf calling in help from a flock of giant eagles.

This is an enjoyable film, but I think that all the cameos could have been cut out and kept down to two films rather than three. It just seems like it was padded out with needless amounts of footage. The atmosphere isn’t as dark, though that isn’t much of a problem other than none of the characters ever feel like they’re in genuine jeopardy (by this point in Fellowship there had already been a couple of significant deaths as well as the beginnings of the fracturing of the group.

I hope there is more to come in the next two films and just can’t wait to see Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch) in all his firey glory. The jury is still out on this one, but if The Desolation of Smaug doesn’t live up to its impressive sounding title it will be a great shame, because I enjoy the world Jackson has created.

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