A thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant re-imagining of Tolkien's classic
Since it's taken me a good few weeks to finally see The Hobbit, I had a chance to glance at a couple of reviews and hear a few opinions on the film, and with some negative criticism floating about, even from the most staunch of Lord of the Rings fans I was slightly apprehensive before going to see it. But as soon as the opening theme came in and the green lush view of the Shire came into view I knew straight away i'd love it. The introduction brings back an odd sense of familiarity, as if we'd never left middle earth at all. Throughout, the film is hilarious, tense, frightening, magical and visually stunning, everything we've come to expect from a Peter Jackson film. The film has a heavy British cast, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo, the returning Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, Richard Armitage as Thorin among 13 other actors playing the famous dwarves, as well as the always superb Andy Serkis as Gollum. Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee and Elijah Wood all return to the franchise as their previous LOTR characters.
The film opens to the Shire, with Ian Holm and Elijah Wood as Bilbo and Frodo preparing for the birthday party which Bilbo celebrates in the opening of The Fellowship Of The Ring. We then flashback to 60 years earlier when the younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) gets a visit from an elderly grey wizard, of course the all powerful Gandalf (Ian McKellen). We are then treated to a brilliantly presented tale of how the Dwarves lost their ancestral kingdom, and learn of the quest which Bilbo has been offered to go on. The subsequent 30 - 45 minutes are then spent in Bilbo's home, in which we meet and share a meal with each one of the 13 hefty dwarves. There were complaints about this section, it was either too long or drawn out for some critics, but I found that not only was it fun but needed. This whole segment is needed to emphasise how reluctant Bilbo is to journey to The Lonely Mountain (the lost kingdom of the Dwarves, and home to Smaug the dragon) while it also offers insight into the lives and history of the Dwarves. Of course, Bilbo finally accepts the offer to join the company after firstly declining, and so the group begin their quest.
They battle trolls, orks, goblins, dine with elves, get caught up in a fight between storm giants, and encounter the delightfully odd Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) along the way. Bilbo has his first run in with Serkis' Gollum, in what is a fantastic scene set in the caves of the goblins. This is the stand out scene of the movie, and we also see Bilbo's acquisition of the ring, and Gollum's subsequent furious and desperate reaction in an attempt to get it back. While towards the end we finally get a small glimpse at the ferocious Smaug, and the lead in to the sequel.
Martin Freeman is the ideal Bilbo Baggins, polite, awkward, stubborn, and brave, he is perfectly cast and it is easy to see why Jackson moved his whole shooting schedule to bring him in. He embodies Bilbo, his mannerisms, his thought process, his reluctant nature, his naivety of the real world outside of The Shire and above all, his courage. There's obviously no faulting McKellen's portrayal of Gandalf, wise, caring, and powerful, McKellen has always brought great gravitas to the role, and continues this solidly in The Hobbit. The company of thirteen Dwarves are portrayed brilliantly by each actor, brash, greedy, proud, stubborn yet tough, they are hilarious throughout and a joy to watch together on screen. I must also praise the always superb Christopher Lee, in despite what is a minor supporting role, the elderly actor manages to get across the building evil inside Saruman which only becomes prominent in the LOTR. While of course, Andy Serkis as Gollum is a masterclass in CGI acting, the fact he has not once received a nomination for any major award for his work is a travesty.
In terms of visuals, the film looks great in 3D, and I can't fault Jackson's decision to go with 48 frames per second. The Hobbit is crystal clear, and its soaring views of middle earth and re-creations of, for example, the Goblin lair, are beautifully designed. My only one problem with the film was the decision to use CGI Orcs as opposed to the prosthetic ones used in LOTR, I find the prothetic Orcs to be scarier as well as uglier and more disgusting. However I do understand Jackson's overall use of CGI, it gives the film a warmer, more child-friendly vibe, which suits the nature of the novel. Jackson also controversially includes story arcs from The Silmarillion among other bits and bobs from Tolkien's books on middle earth. Although this inclusion has beefed up the series to a trilogy, it helps link in the LOTR series and generally makes the film more interesting as a result.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is spectacular, action packed, hilarious and hearty. Jackson has brought Tolkien's acclaimed story to life brilliantly, while Martin Freeman steals the show as Bilbo Baggins. Don't let the critics stop you from watching this, The Hobbit has its own feel and soul and Jackson has done well to artistically separate it from the LOTR trilogy, the second film can't come soon enough. 5/5