A long but unmissable journey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
M, 3hr 5min
Reviewed by Jonathon Howe.
Peter Jackson's detractors have often accused him of being unable to edit his own work, resulting in massively bloated films that push even the most adoring fan to the edge of their patience.
He fell into this trap with the Lord of the Rings trilogy and followed on with his forgettable remake of King Kong.
He covers similar ground in his latest foray into J R R Tolkien's Middle-earth, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which is as fascinating and enjoyable as it is insanely frustrating and annoying.
The epic has moments of utter intensity tempered with instants of delight, edge-of-the-seat action alongside dull exposition and bawdy humour balanced with sentimentality. This dichotomy makes for an interesting, if not inflated, piece of cinema that follows the source novel in meticulous fashion.
To get it out of the way, the length is a problem. Whatever one might think about Jackson's decision to stretch the short novel into three parts, there is simply no way this film should be nearly three hours long. It spans from the dwarfs' feast at Bag End to the appearance of the eagles, which is chapter six in the book. He achieves this length with the use of long expository scenes and increased appearances by bit players like Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy of Dr Who fame). One sometimes gets the feeling the film is more entrenched in the appendices of Return of the King than a straight adaptation of The Hobbit.
After the band of dwarfs led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and aided by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) arrive at Bag End, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is convinced to join them on a quest to reclaim The Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug. Along the way we visit old friends, including Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee), and some new ones, such as the aforementioned Radagast who, though a bit superfluous, is far from the series' Jar Jar Binks.
The first 40 minutes drag, and while the detail might please fans, it may leave casual filmgoers indifferent. But once the film kicks in there are battle scenes aplenty, with dwarven steel clashing with a menagerie of trolls, orcs, wargs and goblins. The thick and fast action comes in a rapid-fire staccato fashion that is moderated with short scenes of quiet and reflection.
The much-talked-about 48 frames per second distracts rather than adds to the film by making things appear too real. Some of the props and miniatures look fake, thus the illusion of reality is disrupted by the very technology that is attempting to exacerbate it.
But the overall look of the film is top-notch, with the special effects, costumes, sets and camera work all predictably great.
In terms of performances, Freeman's everyman stands apart, especially his hilariously down-to-earth replies to moments of grand rhetoric. Armitage as the proud Oakenshield brings sufficient gravitas to the role, while Andy Serkis' motion-capture performance as Gollum is a treat.
Let it never be said that Jackson doesn't offer filmgoers enough bang for their buck. But there can be too much of a good thing. His latest epic might be overblown, excessive and even boorish at times, but it is ultimately unmissable.