Too much care stretches Hobbit

STORY A STRETCH? Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.
STORY A STRETCH? Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

Directed by Peter Jackson
170 mins


So it's here, finally. After years of anticipation, Peter Jackson's latest J R R Tolkein epic has arrived. If nothing else, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey proves again that no-one else could have conceived Middle-earth with quite so much imagination, detail and care.

But this time around, Jackson cares too much.

As everyone should know by now, he's decided to turn Tolkein's breeziest and most succinct fantasy into not one, but three films. It was always going to be a stretch, and right from the start the pitfalls are obvious.

For the first 40 minutes of An Unexpected Journey, Jackson spends so much time in young Bilbo Baggins' hobbit hole that you wonder whether the audience will get stuck there.

True, Martin Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo, playing him with the right level of self-effacing bewilderment. It's also great to see Ian McKellen back as Gandalf, and the support cast, particularly Richard Armitage as dwarf-king Thorin Oakenshield, are vividly realised. But Jackson takes so long fretting over the obvious. Of course Bilbo is going on an adventure - that's what we've come to watch.

Once our unlikely band set off to kill Smaug the dragon and reclaim the dwarves' old kingdom, we're treated to even more detours: did we really spend so much time on a subplot involving one of Gandalf's fellow wizards? Why did the elves have to be so ponderous?

Yet it's the same fussiness that leads to An Unexpected Journey's most vivid moments, whether it's the dwarves narrowly escaping some hungry trolls, or the violent hell-hole that is the goblin kingdom, Jackson is totally immersed in this world. The orcs are frightening and disgusting, and many of the battle sequences are as vivid as those in Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy.

When Gollum (a mesmerising motion-captured Andy Serkis) faces down Bilbo in a duel of riddles, it almost seems worth the wait. Then we realise that it's going to be another year before we get to the business end. Jackson could have made a great version of the Hobbit, instead he's decided to bury it in three films. A journey in search of an editor.

The Timaru Herald