It’s been almost ten years since the Lord of the Rings trilogy ended, so I’m really looking forward to this. I begin my own unexpected journey with a hearty meal: it’s a Peter Jackson movie based on a JRR Tolkien novel and I will break concentration to consume cinema food for no man, elf, dwarf or hobbit. I’ve been prepping my posterior for the 569 minutes of film for quite some time now – mastering the act of not sitting solely on my coccyx, aiming to avoid a numb bum. I’ve brought a small bottle of water and have measured out my ration portions – just enough to keep me hydrated, not enough to make me need the toilet. I’m not falling for that again Jackson. I learnt my lesson in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I’m looking fine in my green, fresh from the packet, The Hobbit 3D glasses. Okay, I’m ready. Take me back to Middle Earth.
So let’s start with the visuals. The emphasis on this movie is how Jackson has filmed it using 48 frames per second to produce a HD 3D fabulous filmy thing. I know, it all sounds a bit technical, but what this basically means is that the 3D effect is supposed to produce a sharper, faster and more in-depth picture. Which it does. However, some parts of the film are almost too fast, making some scenes seem a bit jolty, a bit staccato, forcing my eyes to send angry messages to my brain. Ironically, this seems to happen more at the beginning in the Shire, where things are supposed to be a bit slow. Having said that, I reckon it’s one of the best 3D movies I’ve seen. The depth was fabulously realistic.
Set 60 years before the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy begins, the older Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is setting about writing his book, whilst a pre-fellowship Frodo (Elijah Wood) pesters his uncle with RSVPs to Bilbo’s 111th birthday party. The return of Holm and Wood sets you back all those years ago when the story began. As Bilbo reminisces about his journey, we are taken back to Bilbo in his younger years, played by Martin Freeman. But I’m going to be honest with you: the Hobbit has a slow start. The first 45 minutes seem a little too animated, a little too false, a little too forced. The fields are too green, the dwarves are a too comical, their cheeks are too round, the blush is too red. It’s a scene far from the Middle Earth we know. And why does it get good after three quarters of an hour? Because there’s an orc attack. There’s swords, blood and near death experiences. Now that’s more like it. As soon as there is danger, a bit of nail biting tension it gets really good. We’re back in our uncomfortable comfort zones.
Some of the creatures in the Hobbit are ones we haven’t been introduced to before. There are trolls – a comedy trio of cooks – and Stone-giants who hurl rock at each other and goblins play a bigger part in this film. The creatures do seem a bit ridiculous, but you have to remember that this isn’t a story about a hobbit setting out to destroy the One Ring, it’s about a young hobbit with a small mind leaving the Shire and discovering the world beyond. Although the Hobbit is a story linked to LOTR, you have to bear in mind that it is a prequel. With this in mind, the creatures of legend are less farfetched. But then again, there is a weird wizard who rides on a sleigh pulled by rabbits. Father Christmas in Narnia springs to mind…
Where the characters of the films overlap, we are not disappointed to welcome back Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Cate Blanchette as Galadriel, Hugo Weaving as Elrond, Christopher Lee as Saruman, the aforementioned Holm and Wood, and of course Andy Serkis as Gollum. On the other hand, we warmly welcome the newcomers, and the British plethora of actors is significant. Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins the younger is brilliant. He plays the awkward, small-minded hobbit well, portraying traits anyone can relate too: the desire to remain put, surrounded by the things he knows. Watching Bilbo loosing his innocence, turning darker seems more real. Richard Armitage’s Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountainis, has taken on an almost Aragon-esque persona. However, Benedict Cumberbatch’s transformation into dragon form makes him unrecognisable. James Nesbitt’s role as Bofur the dwarf is also a bit bizarre as we’re used to seeing him on ITV.
Keeping Jackson as the director and producer of Middle Earth has to be the greatest continuation. His ability to balance what we do know, with what we don’t know is brilliantly frustrating. Take Saruman for instance: he is in league with Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond in this film but you know that in a few movies time he will be working for Sauron. Or when Bilbo turns down the opportunity to kill Gollum, you know that Gollum will return with revenge. Also, Jackson has used the same music. A light windpipe melody for the Shire, a beautiful harp song for Rivendell, the dark, eerie string for the One Ring…
I would say that overall this movie is not quite as epic as the LOTR trilogy. This story is about the little people: the dwarves and the hobbit, who have a slightly smaller, less important task to fulfil. The plot sometimes comes across as complicated, as there is more focus on the sub-plot about the rumblings of the rise of Saruman. Sometimes I found myself concentrating on how the gaps are being filled in relation to the LOTR and forgetting about the task in hand. Honestly, I can’t quite fathom how Jackson is going to continue the trilogy, but I’m willing to find out.
It hurts me to say it, an I know you can’t put a fraction over a fraction, but I give it a 3/5
Middle Earth, it’s good to be back.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is released in cinemas on the 13th December 2012. Watch the trailer below.