Throw that pony into third gear and get ready for a perilous—long—dialogue-heavy journey towards some Lonely Mountain. Peter Jackson’s anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was if not unexpected, for me, out of left field. The film feels more like homage to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy than it does to the original book from J.R.R Tolkien. However, let us avoid the pitfall of a literary comparison and focus on the film itself.
During its staggered, slow start we return to the opening narrative of The Fellowship of the Ring for an Elves’ age (a long time). The information and long screen time serves little purpose—like many scenes in the movie. Either we know old Bilbo Baggin’s (Ian Holm) story from watching the Rings Trilogy or we wonder who on Middle Earth is Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), and why the heck do we care about some party. Since when do we need backstory to a prequel?
The film makes a similar detour during the long conversation between Saruman (Christopher Lee), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). At least in the case of Radagast’s (Sylvester McCoy) long introduction, we see him later in the film, if only to introduce an unnecessary plot device. There are other moments that feel like Jackson is milking this short book to have enough content for a trilogy. Lucky for Jackson, his audience are nerds and children who will lap up this over attention to tiresome and invented narratives (okay, my only book comment).
When the film’s action sequences begin they are often hard to watch: fast camera movements blur individual characters in many of the computer-generated environments. This is especially true for characters in the background, who are often already in soft focus. The minimal light and fast camera movement largely works for the CG driven fight scenes, as in the other films. However, The Hobbit feels like you are watching fast moving blurred backgrounds for three hours. I am however curious to see what it looks like at 48 frames per second (twice the frame rate of a normal film) and how it affects the flow of the action sequences.
In general, veteran Rings Trilogy cinematographer Andrew Lesnie succeeds again in creating a beautiful world; brought to life via wide aerial shots and tight framings that focus on characters as they move through the beautiful New Zealand landscape.
Casting and costuming is spot on in the film, aside from Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). For me, he looks altogether too human compared to his well costumed dwarven counterparts. His performance thus far was however far more agreeable. Martin Freeman, who has found recent notoriety from BBC’s Sherlock, is a great addition as a young Bilbo Baggins. His performance is topnotch and his expressive acting style meshes well with the vivacious faces of his cohorts.
Another highlight for me was the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries) and his repulsive acne-ridden boil of a face. Though he is computer generated, Humphries made him a memorable character. Gollum (Andy Serkis) was also a delight because he was not only creepier in this film, but he was by far the most entertaining. This point was further clarified by the laughter all around me: obviously the most fun part of the film.
In the end, I found The Hobbit a little bit disappointing. However, I still thought it was quite entertaining and would recommend it. Whether you are a fantasy nerd, just a Tolkien fan, or looking for a fun family movie, it is definitely worth a watch. I look forward to the next installment, but hope it feels a little more polished than this one. Perhaps two films instead of a full trilogy would have given them the time and tweaking they needed. In any case, I look forward to the next installment and voyage into Middle Earth.
I give it 3 out of 5 stars.
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