Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman – The Office) is a Hobbit who enjoys his quiet, unassuming life in the shire. Then one day, Gandalf (Ian McKellen – X-Men) calls at his home and asks Bilbo to be part of an adventure. He is reluctant and dismissive at first but soon tags along on a dangerous mission to help the dwarfs, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage –Robin Hood), reclaim their home from a deadly dragon. Along the way Bilbo learns about courage, danger and friendship as this unlikely group of allies venture into the dark dangers of Middle Earth.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey arrives with a huge amount anticipation and expectation. With Peter Jackson once again at the helm, this prequel to The Lord Of The Rings saga has been a long time coming. It’s hard to believe that The Fellowship of the Ring came out way back in 2001. 12 Years later and it’s safe to say Jackson’s trilogy irrevocably changed the landscape of modern filmmaking.
The challenge that lies ahead of The Hobbit is two-fold. Can it replicate the vibe of the original trilogy whilst amazing a knowing audience who have now become used to huge technological leaps? With 3D now prevalent and the huge box-office success of projects like Avatar and Harry Potter well-engrained into pop culture, do J.R.R Tolkien’s stories still hold a place in moviegoer’s hearts?
Thankfully The Hobbit seamlessly blends into the style, structure and ambience of the original trilogy. From the scenery to the title treatment, this is every bit a Lord of the Rings adventure. Jackson has worked hard to retain that sweet, relatable element of the original trilogy and has certainly put a lot of effort into making The Hobbit feel warm and knowing.
All of the characters are well rounded with particular nods going to Sir Ian McKellen (who once again graces the screen as Gandalf) and Martin Freeman who makes a fetching Bilbo Baggins an easy hero to champion. Of the dwarfs, Richard Armitage leads the line well and is at the heart of a lot of The Hobbit’s best action sequences.
The welcome re-emergence of a few familiar faces like Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchard and Christopher Lee also works wonders for The Hobbit – especially when the plot noticeably slows down. Their appearances add some much needed gravitas.
The downsides are that this all feels very familiar, and that’s not always a good thing. Granted the story of The Hobbit follows along very similar lines to Fellowship – a band of unlikely allies trek across dangerous terrain to reach a far deadlier threat at their eventual destination. There are a lot of moments when you feel like you are just retreading old ground. You’ll either love that or find it a bit tiresome. Then there’s the inexplicable reasoning behind spitting this story into 3 movies. At a stretch, two movies would have done The Hobbit justice. At nearly 3 hours long, An Unexpected Journey is at least 45mins too long.
Then there is the biggest problem with The Hobbit – the 3D frame rate. Peter Jackson has persevered with a new advanced frame-rate (48fps format) that disorients and distracts in equal measure. If you’ve ever watched an up-scaled DVD you’ll know exactly what I mean. The advanced frame rate does conjure up some breathtaking clarity and detail but as a by-product, it also makes things move extra quickly. The start of The Hobbit feels like you are watching a film in fast forward. Simple scenes like people walking down the street take on comedy effect due to unbalanced speed – that then makes everything look odd. It also makes every major sequence feel like a computer game cut-scene rather than an immersive experience.
Basically, the technology still has a few issues to iron out before it’s the finished article and until then, it just distracts rather than enhances the viewing experience. That’s the fundamental flaw of The Hobbit and it tarnishes the film needlessly. If you get the choice, I would recommend you watch this in a standard 2D or 3D setting.
When it’s good, The Hobbit really delivers for spectacle and scope. There are some amazing battle sequences and the sweeping landscapes, especially towards the end give the film an epic appearance, even if the story is lightweight in comparison to the layered structure of the Rings trilogy. We also get tantalising glimpses of the dragon Smaug and the damn scary Necromancer who both suggest that this trilogy will mature well with each progressive chapter (The Desolation of Smaug opens December 2013 and There and Back Again concludes the saga in July 2014).
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a perfectly watchable blockbuster that will certainly find a good, dedicated audience. It has problems and I strongly urge you to see this in 2D or standard 3D to enjoy the story more. If you can get over the fact that this is basically a lighter version of Fellowship, you’ll enjoy the ride. For anyone looking to Peter Jackson for game-changing cinema once again, you’ll be left a bit disappointed.