Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Peter Jackson's three Lord of The Rings films dominated mainstream cinema last decade, offering a unique and exciting cinematic experience. So when it was announced that we would be seeing The Hobbit adapted to the big screen, I admit that I was interested to see what their approach would be. The film had a very chequered path to the screen, with MGM collapsing under the weight of its debts and director Guillermo Del Toro leaving the project. But at last The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is with us. At the screening I saw last Sunday, it was in 3D and at the 48 fps that has caused a little bit of controversy in the run-up to its release. The Hobbit is a far more slim book and one that is aimed at a younger audience than the Lord of The Rings, so it was always going to be problematic to give it the same sort of breadth and depth dramatically and emotionally as its three cinematic predecessors. I would like to preface my review by saying that I didn't hate this first Hobbit film but there are flaws that need to be discussed. The plot is a simpler one than LOTR: a group of dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), are brought to Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) by Gandalf (Ian McKellen returning) with the aim of reclaiming their kingdom of Erebor, which has been taken over by the evil dragon Smaug. Fate throws trolls and a group of vicious orcs, led by the White Orc, who defeated Thorin's grandfather, King Thror, in the band's path. Less is at stake here than Lord of The Rings, which does make it a less epic tale, so the question is whether there is enough meat on its bones to warrant another two presumably lengthy films? An Unexpected Journey has its pros and cons: Freeman is decent enough as Bilbo, Andy Serkis reprises his role as Gollum in the riddles in the dark scene, probably one of the stand-out sequences here, and Armitage as dwarf king in exile Thorin is suitably heroic and an interesting character. McKellen is always watchable and when he is on screen here, it does lift the film a little. The rest of the dwarves feel pretty interchangeable as they look similar and it's hard to keep track of a dozen characters. Their slapstick antics are annoying on screen, although it's easy to forget that this is pitched at a younger audience than its progenitors, so young children will probably enjoy it. Jackson and Boyens have shoehorned a trip to Rivendell into proceedings, which feels like an excuse to include elf queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) into proceedings and wizard Radagast (played by former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy) is a screen creation who really doesn't work, coming across as oafish and laughable. The 3D is totally pointless as the visuals would have looked just as impressive in 2D and the 48 fps makes certain scenes look like you've just stepped into a 1970s BBC TV drama, taking you out of the action. Also, the battles lack any real emotional connection thanks to the 3D and they look artificial and unreal. Visually of course, there are some treats to be had (the goblin mine is nicely realised and we see a Rivendell in the fuller flush of its power).It feels like a film that outstays its welcome as the source material really doesn't have enough to it to be able to flesh it out to a nine-hour extravaganza. They will really need to ramp up proceedings with the second film if they are going to come anywhere close to justifying this as a trilogy. I was a big fan of the three other films, especially The Two Towers but they all had something, and I was genuinely disappointed by the efforts here. It may work better in 2D and at the regular frame rate and it will keep young children amused but The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in 3D and at 48fps is a three-star film…

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