Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Film Review)

Going into the Hobbit there is one thing you need to keep in mind – This trilogy is going to be a very different breed of animal from the last quest across Middle-Earth. In terms of literature the Hobbit was almost as far away from Lord of the Rings as that trilogy was from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Trying to adapt it with the same grand tone of a clash between good and evil was out of the question. It simply wouldn’t have worked with the far smaller and more human tale and as a result Peter Jackson did not try to directly replicate the approach he had taken to his previous epic. Those going in expecting another Lord of the Rings are going to be severely disappointed. Those going in expecting to watch an exceptional film are going to be more than satisfied.

Taking place some sixty years before the start of the Fellowship, An Unexpected Journey focuses upon the life and famous adventure of Bilbo Baggins. Detailing his assistance in reclaiming an ancient dwarven stronghold from the dragon which took it as its lair, his encounter with the spiders of Mirkwood, the Battle of the Five Armies, and most importantly how a ring came into his possession.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect to comment upon, or the elephant in the room, is the liberties which were taken in the production. Having been stretched out to cover three films and changed directors on one occasion the film frequently deviates from the source material. With stylistic choices made to create on-going links between the films, character roles have been expanded for reasons of plot or to give more of an impact with the audience. A clear example of this was the change from Gandalf to Bilbo on who managed to keep the trio of trolls arguing until sunlight to help establish his skill and worth. Another being the presence of the pursuing Azog, a scarred orc hell-bent on getting revenge against the leader of the dwarven band.

With the characters as well there have been numerous changes, minor and large details to help them stand out more rather than disappearing into the background. The dwarves are the most obvious of this. With thirteen present and no real differentiation on race or role save for Thorin the scriptwriters made a number of alterations to help make them stand out. Minor character quirks to help make them memorable without turning them into outright caricatures. Well, most of them. This was something which was, as with all roles within the film, helped to no small decree by the excellent casting choices of the likes of James Nesbitt. The most standout example however, and the biggest person people will either love or hate, is Radagast the Brown who is as far from his literary self as could be humanly possible. He’s far more the fool than previous incarnations, with a suggestion that he spends most of his time in the forest getting high, and mainly serves to help glue the plot of the necromancer directly onto the Hobbit’s events.

For anyone excited about the inclusion of the necromancer, most of the war against him is being saved for later. This first film is primarily dealing with the bulk of the journey to Smaug’s lair and the build-up to facing off with the necromancer’s forces in Mirkwood. There are no big battles and while we do see giant spiders and the reanimator himself in an admittedly tense scene they are only onscreen for a minute at the most. The brawls which are shown instead are more your usual fantasy fare of running skirmishes. The sort of Pirates of the Caribbean/Indiana Jones innovative hectic rushes which are definitely more fitting for the film. That or split second curb stomps of fights which are admittedly delivered well for such anti-climatic events.

If there is something of a flaw to be found in here it’s that the film’s introduction isn’t good for newcomers. Instead relying upon what was shown and built up in the Fellowship of the Ring or knowledge of the novel itself. To watch it otherwise, you have to either have to be extremely accepting that you won’t get answers or explanations to things like what a hobbit is or who the White Council are. Even then those who did watch those films have to be accepting of how little some aspects resemble what we’ve seen before. The goblins for example speaking with surprising coherency and looking like something you’d expect to see in the market of Hellboy II.

Still it’s a minor issue and the film is definitely of a fantastic quality. Very different from what we’ve seen before but without a doubt completely enjoyable, focused, well-paced and with the right mixture of humour, action and drama for the start of a new trilogy. Definitely see this one while it’s in cinemas, but try to avoid the 48 frames per second showings. The full version might be three hours long but it doesn’t feel it and unlike that other one you won’t come out of it disorientated and wondering why the hell everyone was moving so strangely.


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and all related characters and media are owned by New Line Cinema Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

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