The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson.
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Cate Blanchett, Ken Stott, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis.
Run Time: 169 minutes.
This year was supposed to be Geek Nirvana. Prometheus. Avengers Assemble. The Dark Knight Rises. Skyfall. The Hobbit. A mainstream slate to rival the very best. Now, The Avengers aside, I was really looking forward to this glut of potentially credible blockbusters (whatever that means). Then, one by one, they were released, to the usual ‘this is totez the best film evar!!!1!!’ fanfare. One by one they left me disappointed.
2012 wasn’t exactly a vintage year. I pretty much hated every film I just listed, but that’s an article for 2013. The point is, I wasn’t expecting much of The Hobbit. The whole 48fps and 3D debate didn’t help things. In the end, I went with my gut and plumped for the standard 2D 24fps. As a reviewer, I wanted to experience the higher frame rate, but I also want the film to look like a fucking film, not an episode of Eastenders. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I don’t believe in innovation for innovations sake in cinema, it has to enhance the experience.
So we are now two hundred words in without really reviewing the film. Context is out of the way now, I’ve said my peace, and I can finally give my verdict. I actually liked it. It wasn’t on par with the original trilogy, but the worries about pace were unfounded for me, and in 24fps it did feel somewhat similar in style.
As the film progressed, I viewed it as a ‘Middle Earth fable’ (almost in the same way that The Animatrix fleshed out that particular universe), as it was much different and lighter in tone. This is down to the plot, with not as much riding on the outcome of proceedings as LOTR. We follow Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as they help a company of Dwarves reclaim their mountain city and fortune from Smaug (a pretty nasty dragon). Due to this, it was much more of a straight up family friendly adventure fantasy, whilst still leaving room for darker sequels. Because of this lightness though, a little too much CGI and slapstick humour was present, meaning the film didn’t achieve an identical look to the other films in the series. It looked like Guillermo Del Toro’s stamp had been well and truly placed on the production before he left. I could excuse this though, almost as if it was Bilbo’s interpretation of the story compared to LOTR’s direct documentation style.
Tolkien Puritans may feel aggrieved at some additions to the plot, but I personally, let it slide, as one or two things aside, it mainly worked for the better (the Pale Orc Azog the Defiler being a personal highlight, Radagast being a low point). This may be down to the fact that I’m more of a fan of the film than Tolkien’s writing, for which I apologise in advance.
I was most worried about the Dwarves, fearing it would be hard to add any depth to thirteen of them in the short space of time, or that they would annoy the shit out of me. Sadly, it was a bit of both. Most of them I really liked, even enjoying the usually unbearable Jimmy Nesbitt. It was the annoyance of some of the more slapstick orientated Dwarves and the unusually handsomely human-looking pair of Fili and Kili that shattered the realism of the universe (if you can even say that in a fantasy setting) already established.
If you take the film for what it is though, which is essentially a family blockbuster, it performs well. Martin Freeman nails the blundering Bilbo, and his scenes alongside Gollum (the fantastic Andy Serkis) stand out for bags of tension, humour and creepiness. It’s by no means perfect, but an admirable stab at a difficult adaptation.
It’s a film with its heart in the right place. For the time being anyway, Peter Jackson and his team really do love the franchise and want to do best by it. He may even think that the higher frame rate is the best way of presenting the film. Much like Lucas before him however, Jackson has to be careful that he doesn’t become clouded by this love and create a monster. The first warning signs have appeared in An Unexpected Journey, but the film had enough good points around them to conceal their potentially damaging influence. Obviously, the LOTR trilogy grew from film to film, and hopefully, The Hobbit series can do the same.
Score: 6 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: LOTR Trilogy, King Kong, Game of Thrones.