Saturday 15 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Year: 2012
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay:  Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Richard Armitage

Synopsis is here

Sorry folks, I call them as I see them. The Hobbit may have a ton of hype and looks set to make more cash than even Smaug could handle. However the film, for me, was merely passable. My words will do nothing for the fan base (some of which have made up their minds before even seeing the film) and that's fine. I fact I commend them, as I would love to idly glaze over any issues I had with the film. Unfortunately I found myself becoming more and more restless.

My biggest problem with the film came from the story itself. The Hobbit struggles to try and match the same scale that was given to Lord of the Rings n terms of plot. It becomes very evident that the films narrative cannot keep up. For all the bemoaning of Return of the King's many endings and the like, at least it was due to its build of characters and sub plots. The Hobbit is so linear in its quest that much of it is merely padding. Once again, I'm sure fans will find this the greatest thing ever. Others will wonder why Jackson wasn't more ruthless in the cutting room.

The films length becomes a sticking point as The Hobbit's characters are quite flat in comparison to what we've had before. We spend ages with this gang of dwarves before any questing begins, and yet none stand out. Even Martin Freeman's Bilbo is too passive, only coming really coming alive during the encounter with Gollum (The ever excellent Andy Serkis). 

The Gollum Confrontation occurs in the second, more entertaining half of the film, which helps remind you just why you loved this world in the first place. Once the quest gets fully under way, it's hard not to be reminded of the strengths of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit may not have the character dynamics or conflicts of the larger trilogy, but it's set pieces still bring forth a certain amount of scale that is only matched by few films. However, one's feelings of such sequences will depend on their feeling of the people caught within them. It may also depend on how they feel about deus ex machinas, lots of exposition and protagonists who fade into the background. 

Yet, The Hobbit still manages to fascinate. Middle Earth didn't strike me as it did in 2001 but's it's design, look and visual scale is still an eye opener. I may not have been too bothered about the characters, but the performances are solid enough. I also have to admit, when the film harked back (forward?) to Lord of the Rings, it was then I was most engaged. For instance, the final moments between Gollum and Bilbo, give a knowing depth to proceedings, particularly if you are someone who comes to this series fresh. My only quest now with this first hobbit segment is to watch it in the infamous 48 high frame rate and see how I feel afterwards. It will also be a good chance to give the issues I had a reassessment.