Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - A Review

Following a lenthy, prolonged process which included a switch in director and several delays in its release, we have finally returned to Middle Earth with the beginning of another highly anticipated trilogy in the form of The Hobbit. Peter Jackson takes the helm yet again after Guillermo Del Toro's departure in May 2010 due to ongoing delays in the film making process, however his two year stint as head of the project means he is still credited for his work previous to his resignation. In any matter, the fact remains that despite the overlong manner in which it arrived, The Hobbit is here and ready for review. So, does it live up to expectation?

Well, depending on who you ask, that's a very polarized question at the moment. Reception to the first of the trilogy has been largely mixed, mainly I believe due to the enormous weight of expectation which was obviously a factor following the record breaking Lord Of The Rings trilogy which Jackson dealt us previously, however this is a slightly unfair way to look at things. It was always unlikely that a franchise such as LOTR would be repeated and those criticizing The Hobbit for not living up to it's standards are missing the point, as The Hobbit deserves an objective viewing, and one not preceded by its incredible reputation.

Long story short for anyone who hasn't read the books, 60 years before the events of The Fellowship we find ourselves back in The Shire with Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is tricked by Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) into accompanying a pack of Dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) in a quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain back from Smaug the dragon.

Much has been made of the fact that Jackson has decided to transform a 310 page novel into 3 parts and undoubtedly this is a decision provoked by the financial benefit of 3 films as opposed to a single retelling, however the director deserves credit for translating the first half of the story at a gentle, yet never dull pace. Our introduction to the group of Dwarves is a lengthy scene, yet a warm and often hilarious one which does not outstay its welcome, although the same cannot be said of the Dwarves as far as Bilbo is concerned.

Armitage is excellent as the proud and determined Thorin, while Ken Stott as Balin is another Dwarf who should be commended, however James Nesbitt's performance as Bofur sticks out like a sore thumb, and causes me to wonder how he ever got so close to such a large scale project as this.

Speaking of cast members however, the the potrayal of Bilbo by Freeman must be highlighted as one of effortless brilliance. The Englishman is perfectly suited as the baffled, often afraid yet always kind hearted Bilbo and he embodies the character with a familiarity that immediatley warms us to our hero. Another stand out aspect of casting is of course Andy Serkis, who once again thrills audiences with his scene stealing act as Gollum. The interaction between Bilbo and Smeagol is by far the finest moment of the films 169 minute running time and provides as much laughter as it does suspense, with Bilbo attempting to riddle his way out of trouble with the unpredictable creature.

It may seem like I have nothing for praise for the film up to now, but obviously there are flaws within The Hobbit. It would have to said that the film is brought to a close in an anti-climatic manner, and perhaps this is not surprising given the fact that the film finishes where the novel is only half-way through, a problem that was always going to be a feature of adapting a small book on such an epic scale.

Another issue I had is the absolute lack of Del Toro's presence anywhere in the film; I had expected that his two years of work on the film and the fact he was still credited as a screenwriter meant that we would be provided with some form of his vision for Middle Earth, an aspect I was quite looking forward to but alas, his creative presence is nowhere to be found, although it mus be said that Jackson has once again provided a fantasy world of stunning beauty, which looks wonderful in a 3D setting and I must admit I failed to see a major difference in the controversial 48 frame rate which was discussed so heatedly in recent months.

Overall, while there will be naysayers who claim The Hobbit has failed following years of expectation, this is far from the truth. Of course Jackson's prequel is inferior to the previous films but this should not define the quality of An Unexpected Journey itself, which stands alone as a well executed, stylish and epic exercise in film-making.


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