Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Hobbit

I have not written a review in a while, been busy, a little lazy and on occasions incredibly bad tempered. Naturally, I have embarrassed myself in the time I have been away (alcohol has played a major factor in this). The stories are too face palming worthy to tell just yet, but get me drunk and I’ll yap away, spill the beans about gaining the experience to write a book entitled ‘How to make a utter prat of to yourself: The Guide’ RRP £17.99. But, enough of my odd brand of humour...

Much has been said about Peter Jackson’s decision to split a relatively short novel into three separate parts with each of films (judging by the length of the first film) to be about three hours long. Naturally, it all comes down to money, but Jackson has shown a passion for the works of J.R.R. Tolkien to elevate some cynical thoughts of greed.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman and Ian Holm) on the first stages of his adventures with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and thirteen dwarfs who are led by Thorin (Richard Armitage). The fellowship of dwarfs, one wizard and hobbit embark on an epic quest to return the gold stolen by the dragon Smaug to the dwarf race. The clan meet a number of beasts including trolls, orcs and goblins as Tolkien’s first novel (or part of it) is made in the same epic and grand scale as the previous Lord of the Rings films.

Much has been said about The Hobbit, with many people criticising the film’s running time (it does, on paper, seem rather long) focusing much attention on the opening act (called ‘Bilbo Baggy’ by Mark Kermode) and Jackson’s decision to use 48 frames per second rather than the normal 24. Critics also noted that the 48 frame rate per second made the sets look like sets and the rubber noses look like rubber noses, but as I watched the fillm in the standared 24 frame rate I could not possibly comment. The first act makes for an amusing opening as the banter between the dwarfs, and Martin Freeman’s sighs of exasperation are entertaining, though the occasional descents into child humour can become tiresome. There are thirteen dwarfs in total (kudos if you can remember all their names), and with such a high number of dwarfs each are not devoted equal screen time, thus some become nothing more than cardboard cut outs with names.

For all the positive aspects, and there are quite a few, the film belongs to Martin Freeman who is outstanding as Bilbo Baggins. Freeman is a delight to watch as he plays a role that is not dissimilar to that of Dr John Watson in the BBC TV series Sherlock, nevertheless it a role he plays superbly, making him the heart and soul of the entire movie. It is a brilliantly engaging performance from Freeman who creates a very likeable and often amusing Bilbo and three hours in his company is a treat. Performances from the rest of the cast, consisting of newcomers such as Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt, are good as well are the performances from regulars such as McKellen, Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Christopher Lee (Saruman) and Cate Blanchett (Galadriel). However, the best of the regulars is Andy Serkis who as Gollum shares the best scene with Freeman. Serkis brings the character Gollum to life, reminding us why he is a favourite of a number of fans of the epic trilogy.  

Visually, The Hobbit is on a similar epic scale to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, namely the spectacular scenery is so incredible that it can be used as advertisement for the New Zealand tourist board (but some alterations are needed, like the removal of trolls and orcs). Visually the film is GCI heavy, but some of the locations created with GCI are stunning. It is when the group begin their adventure and we see the spectacular scenery that we are taken back to the time we first watched Lord of the Rings. Those whose childhood was surrounded by those spectacular films got a wonderful sense of nostalgia bring them back to the time when their young mind was enthralled by a fantasy story that brought them into an entirely different world. The Hobbit achieves good results in doing just this, but it is not quite as successful as the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Yet there are flaws, the battle scenes in Lord of the Rings were frantic and bloody, whilst those in the battle scenes in The Hobbit lacked the grittiness of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Furthermore, whilst the actions scenes are entertaining there is never any sense that the characters are in any real danger. Occasionally the film does descend into some childish humour; farting, burping and bogies are just a few examples where additions by Peter Jackson (of which they are many) are somewhat questionable (the additions to the story explains the titanic running time). Another minor, albeit annoying issue is the numerous times the characters are saved from the death at the last moment, after the 744,236th time it does begin to get a little tiresome.

However, these are minor niggles that do not detract from the overall experience, and even at three hours in length the pace is well managed (despite the high volume of critics who would disagree). Some of the characterisations of the dwarfs can be improved, communally they are an amusing bunch, but individual most of them are somewhat lacking in character. Despite the great visuals it is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins who very much steals the show; his company is charming enough to last the entire three hours.