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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Review

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

PETER Jackson’s long-awaited return to Middle Earth is a film that frustrates as much as it delights.

Part one of a new trilogy, it’s overlong and symptomatic of everything that’s cynical and profit driven about franchise movie-making nowadays. But it does have moments that succeed in recapturing the magic of the director’s Oscar-winning Lord of the Rings trilogy.

That it arrives in 3D and boasting the new 48 frames per second technology (as opposed to 24) merely adds to the debate surrounding its overall quality, given that the 3D doesn’t necessarily add much and the higher frame rate designed to elicit a hyper reality often looks distracting and just plain odd.

By Jackson’s own admission, Tolkien’s original book boasts “a breathless pace because Tolkien was writing it as a story for his children and for the children of the world. It’s a ripping yarn that moves from event to event and really doesn’t stop.”

So, why then does such a short literary piece warrant three films, the first of which clocks in at almost three hours?

Jackson’s reply would seem to be attention to detail and context. This is designed as a love letter to the fans, which extracts every last letter from the book while paying lip service to the events that come to form the basis for Lord of the Rings some 60 years later.

It’s for this reason that characters from that trilogy return for cameos, while others that existed only in appendix form are given a lot more to do.

It also contributes to the film’s worst elements as, for long periods, nothing much happens at all. Indeed, the first hour positively drags.

It’s only really when Jackson starts fulfilling the action-packed nature of the book that the film kicks into gear and, as a result, ends on something of a high.

Set pieces to savour include a chase with Orcs amid New Zealand’s stunning scenery and the climactic cliff-top battle that sees the heroes facing near-certain death.

While the piece de resistance is provided by the return of Gollum (and more performance capture mastery by Andy Serkis) for a riddle battle with Bilbo Baggins that genuinely delights.

Elsewhere, though, some of the battle sequences look a little too computer-generated (arcade-style), which the higher frame rate doesn’t help, and some just don’t convince as entirely necessary (such as the flashback battles).

In terms of performance, though, the film functions nicely. Martin Freeman brings an endearing everyman quality to Bilbo that makes him extremely likeable, Richard Armitage brings stoic heroism to Thorin (if not quite the enigmatic presence of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn), and Ken Stott shines as Balin.

Of the returning actors, Sir Ian Mckellen lives and breathes Gandalf and excels, while appearances from Christopher Lee (Saruman), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel) and, of course, Serkis succeed in both lending the film a nice sense of continuity and recapturing the goodwill that other, more self indulgent excesses threaten to strip away.

Of those, appearances from Elijah Wood and Ian Holm (as the older Bilbo) do add unnecessary padding.

Overall, then, this first instalment has as much to like as it does to frustrate. It’s good rather than great but rarely as impressive as its predecessors.

And the underlying question lingers throughout: had Jackson opted for a leaner, maybe even two movie approach would this have worked a lot better? On the evidence so, far the answer is yes.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 169mins
UK Release Date: December 13, 2012