The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey

Waikato Times reporter Chris Gardner went along to the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey last night and shares his thoughts on the film.

Sir Peter Jackson has done it again.

In delivering The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to cinemas on general release in the wee hours of this morning at 48 frames per second, he has put another New Zealand produced film on the cinematic map.

The only way to describe the new frame rate, twice the normal rate, is uber real.

Everything appears with a clarity that matches reality - which is quite disconcerting when you are up to your eyeballs in orc flesh.

How the movie world has changed since The Return of the King, the last of Sir Peter's The Lord of the Rings films, won 11 Oscars following its 2003 release.

I watched, awe struck, in 3D at the Hoyts complex at the Te Awa mall at The Base, and couldn't fault a frame.For me it seemed liked the pioneering days of cinema when audiences rushed from the theatre when a steam train ploughed straight at the camera.

"All good stories deserve embellishment," Gandalf the Grey tells Bilbo Baggins in the opening scenes of the film.

JRR Tolkien's 1937 children's book The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, is a good story that Tolkien embellished himself after its first telling to fit in with The Lord of the Rings trilogy which followed in 1954 and 1955.

Sir Ian McKellen is almost winking at the audience as he delivers the line no doubt included by director Sir Peter Jackson to warn the audience of some embellishment of his own.

It was obvious Jackson would have to add some material if he was going to tell the 290 page children's story over three films instead of the originally planned two.

He takes 169 minute to get to the end of Chapter VI: Out of the Frying -Pan Into The Fire which ends on page105 of my 1997 hardback edition of the book illustrated by Alan Lee, who Jackson again used as concept artist on this film.

But, even at a midnight showing at Hoyts at The Base in Hamilton that with trailers ended just after 3am, it didn't feel like 169 minutes. More like two hours.

That's a good sign for Jackson's so called embellishments which actually turn out not to be Jackson's at all but Tolkien's - they are all drawn from the appendices of the The Lord of the Rings and included in that work to dove tales together.

The film opens, as I expected when I heard Elijah Wood and Ian Holm were reprising their roles as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, 60 years after the adventures of The Hobbit.

It's a pre-titles sequence which sees Bilbo set up the tale for Frodo as he sits at his desk at Bag End in Hobbiton and begins to write his memoirs ahead of his eleventy-first birthday.

It's a scene not in The Hobbit book but is a good way of introducing the audience to the book's narrative.

Smaug the dragon had desolated the dwarf kindgom under the Lonely Mountain and the dwarves, led by Gandalf, wanted help in retaking it - enter Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo Baggins, a bookish pipesmoker (like Tolkien) who you'd never find out of his comfy chair in an evening much less going on an adventure.

Freeman, who made his name in The Office before playing Arthur Dent in that other oft embelished story The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, does a wonderful job in aping Ian Holm and convincing the audience that he is one and the same character within seconds of his first appearance.

Methinks Jackson was also having a bit of fun in dressing the bewildered hobbit in a dressing gown as he opens the door to Gandalf the Grey, and a string of comical dwarves, who convince him they need his diminuitive size and specific skills on their quest to retake their kingdom from Smaug.

Jackson lingers longingly and lovingly on the Hobbiton movie set, reconstructed for this film and left intact for tourists.

Then he does have a 50 per cent share in the business.

And good on him.In fact the pacing is similar to The Fellowship of the Ring, with the caravan setting off on its quest after the characters have been introduced and established in Hobbiton.

I'd put money on the limestone outcroppings where they spend much of the middle of the film as being the King Country, I know the production spent some time on a farm near Piopio.

And there is perhaps a clue from, I think, Gandalf, who mutters, "A farmer and his family used to live here."

I had been looking forward to the quest's encounter with the trolls Bill, Burt and Tom, but this has been reimagined considerably with Gandalf's rescue role given to Bilbo to build him up in the eyes of the dwarves.

Such is the nature of adapting one medium to another - classic children's literature to Wellywood blockbuster.

Smaug is hardly glimpsed in this film, setting the stage for his big reveal next movie.

So what did I think overall? Well, The Lord of the Rings this isn't.

If you're expecting epic story telling like you haven't seen before you'll be disappointed.

There's only so many times a director can do that. This film is true to its source which, for the most part, is a children's fantasy story with comical elements which created the fictional world of Middle-earth where the very adult The Lord of the Rings would be set.

You'll also be upset if you're expecting a literal, word for word, adaptation of the book to the screen.

But Jackson, and his team, have again shown that they can achieve the almost impossible by taking classic literature and putting it on screen in a way that decades of readers have imagined it.

If you're expecting a spectacle like only Sir Peter, and his team in Wellington, can deliver then you will be delighted and I am sure that's how most who see this film will approach it.

That's certainly how my party of friends saw it, all of them wanting to return for a second viewing to see what they missed.

What we all appreciated was composer Howard Shore's return, developing a bold and beautiful new theme based around the dwarves that has its musical roots in Celtic dirges.

There's just the right hint of previous themes that made the musical landscape familiar.

And let's not forget Sir Peter, in establishing his set up in Wellington, has done what George Lucas accomplished in the 1970s when he established Lucasfilm and Industrial Light and Magic in San Francisco Bay away from the glare of Hollywood.

After The Hobbit, Sir Peter should be able to do just about anything he chooses.I'll be going back, and queuing again at midnight next December for part 2.