Cinema Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Up until 2003, The Lord of the Rings franchise seemed to be a permanent fixture in the Yuletide cinema schedule, even though it spanned only three Christmases. As everyone knows these movies were brilliantly filmed, superbly-acted epics, with great visual and special effects, all backed up by a complex but great story. Its success is plain for all to see, with countless Oscar and BAFTA nominations gained during awards season.
So after a gap of over a decade, Peter Jackson returns to the universe that truly cemented his place in the pantheon of great directors with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey; hoping to retain the magic and the brilliance that made the original trilogy so special.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it centres on a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) who is more or less handpicked by Gandalf The Grey (Ian McKellen) to leave the luxuries and comfort zone of The Shire and help a group of nomadic Dwarves to reclaim their home led by the brave, fearless and passionate Thorin (Richard Armitage). Their perilous journey comes complete with Orcs, trolls and goblins as well as appearances from Elves and other wizards. For Bilbo however, he has seen that the outside world is different to what he left behind, yet he finds himself growing as time progresses – but his encounter with the creature Gollum is about to change everything forever.
The performances, as expected, are superb. Martin Freeman is the perfect choice for a young Bilbo and his excellent turn clearly justifies the director’s faith in him. In an industry that clearly wants the biggest names in the world to pull in the dosh, it’s good to see studio execs trusting a filmmaker’s judgement on these issues. Ian McKellen as Gandalf was as if he hadn’t been away and the merry band of Dwarves which include Graham McTavish (The Wicker Tree), Aidan Turner (Being Human) and Ken Stott (The Runaway) are great to watch.
Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee reprise their roles as Frodo, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman respectively; and a familiar ‘precious’ face Gollum returns, just to remind the viewers the part he has to play in the story as well as demonstrating how good Andy Serkis is as an actor. New performers to the franchise include the likes of Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who), James Nesbitt (Coriolanus) and Barry ‘Dame Edna Everage’ Humphries who all seem to be enjoying being involved in The Hobbit mythology.
Visually the movie is incredible; the familiar landscapes including lush greenery and the harsh rocky terrain we all know and loved from the original trilogy, is revisited with the added bonus of being shot in fantastic glorious 3D (real 3D that is – not that conversion rubbish.).
With the reputation Peter Jackson has as a film-maker and the critical and box office success of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, one could, and would be forgiven thinking that this is a gimme – a certainty to be amazing.
Alas, it unfortunately falls short (but not by much) of that elevated level. Of course it was always going to be difficult to replicate the success nine years after the last movie. What we have here with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is essentially more of the same… more fighting, more battles, more unsavoury creatures; even down to the fact that segments of the score are instantly recognisable. Not that there is anything wrong with any of that, but the only new thing it seems that Jackson et al could really offer was 3D glasses and a 48fps, (which incidentally never made me nauseous). More of the same will leave the viewer feeling oh so slightly under-whelmed but there’s no denying that this is still an example of great filmmaking.
Whilst this journey was unexpected for Bilbo, nearly everything on screen was totally (‘ahem’) expected. Despite this minor indiscretion, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is entertaining and most definitely worth watching – but here’s hoping for more quality up to Jackson’s high standards from parts two and three.
FMV Rating ****