The Hobbit – review

Posted: 14/12/2012 in FILM, REVIEWS
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The_Hobbit-_An_Unexpected_JourneyPeter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings trilogy are the greatest films I’ve ever seen. I can’t call them the greatest films ever made, I haven’t seen every film ever made, but of all those I have seen, these are the greatest.

So when The Hobbit was announced a few years ago I met the news with no small amount of trepidation. After all, the first Great Trilogy didn’t exactly benefit from the release of a prequel trilogy vomiting its CGI cartoons all over the original’s pristine carpet.

The Hobbit though was a book in its own right that was released before The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Peter Jackson is a much, much better director than George Lucas.

Concerns were raised when there was some trouble on pinning a director down, but it was a good sign that after something of a fiasco Peter Jackson agreed to return to Middle-earth. But just as those concerns were put to rest, more arose when it was announced that instead of two films, The Hobbit would be a trilogy itself. The relatively slim book The Hobbit.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey immediately distances itself tonally from The Lord of the Rings. The opening section is decidedly light in tone, with the dwarves arrival at Bag End alone eliciting more laughs than most straight comedies. A thirteen strong company, the actors and Jackson do well to quickly individualize the dwarves while not labouring their personalities. The creative team behind their look also deserve praise for the wonderfully distinctive yet cohesive look each dwarf has. James Nesbitt and Ken Stott particularly stand out while Richard Armitage, as lead dwarf Thorin Oakenshield cuts an excellently heroic figure.

It’s also great to be back in the company of Gandalf who undoubtedly retains his title as the ultimate cinematic wizard. Set 60 years before The Lord of the Rings Gandalf is refreshingly agile, especially in the combat sequences and its nice to see the wizard at a time closer to his prime.

Fellow wizard Radagast the Brown may be too broadly comic for some hoping The Hobbit will ape its big brother’s sobriety, but his insanity is a nice addition to the tapestry of Middle-earth and its hard not to like the image of Sylvester McCoy‘s face permanently covered in bird muck.

And the titular Hobbit himself? Martin Freeman does well to imitate Ian Holm and is very convincing as a younger version of the hobbit. His indignation and bemusement, emotions few can play as well as Freeman, also makes Bilbo slightly more compelling than Frodo.

The action is spectacular as expected, thrillingly and fluidly shot, with some sequences so meticulously planned and executed one couldn’t hope to take it all in on the first viewing. The Goblin kingdom at the end typifies this complex approach to action and like many of the set-pieces puts shame to many blockbusters.

Some of it does feel extraneous though, action scenes included. While its never less than entertaining, the film still feels overly long and this is largely down to the choppy pacing. It seems the source as been slavishly adhered to while the writers (Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Jackson and Guillermo del Toro) have included original material to bridge the gap between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogies. As such, to cram everything in we go from lengthy scenes of discussion to being catapulted into epic action scenes from a standing start.  It seems the makers should have stuck even more slavishly to the book or deviated from it further, instead of doing two at once. the-hobbit_2409864k

Watching the film in 48 frames per second is a very odd experience, which may have affected my view of the film overall negatively. Its a brilliant new technology, but on first watch everything appears to be in fast forward apart from the mouths going at the correct speed. The technique does make the scenery and actors appear hyper-real and at times its like you are in the room with them. Yet it can occasionally seem like watching an American television show. It’s almost too much to take in and my eyes still ache from the experience.

Despite the length and pacing, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is still great fun and it’s Christmas release date really plays in its favour. Those expecting something as somber as The Lord of the Rings aren’t going to find it here, but its not supposed to but. It’s a proper, old-school fantasy adventure.

By RJ Bayley

How did your eyes handle the 48 FPS? Find The Hobbit far too long, or richly-satisfying to sink into like a leather archair by the fireplace in a hobbit hole? Comment below!

You can debate the merits of 48FPS on Twitter with RJ Bayley: @chunder_thunder
Or you offer your own views to Goats in the Machine on Twitter: @GoatsInMachine

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Comments
  1. insiderhedge says:

    Reblogged this on Parrot Reviews.

  2. Laurice Alvez says:

    I consider Lord of the Rings to be among the finest cinematic achievements in motion picture history. As for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the closest approximation is The Phantom Menace. I liked The Phantom Menace back in May 1999 and I still do (in defense of… ). But I now know exactly how those who disliked or hated Episode One felt on that fateful evening 12.5 years ago. I feel your pain, for now it is my pain as well.;

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