Starring: Martin Freeman (Sherlock), Ian McKellen (X-Men), Richard Armitage, Hugo Weaving (The Matrix), Andy Serkis (Rise of the Planet of the Apes)
Director: Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy)
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy) & Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth)
Runtime: 2 hours 40 minutes
Release Date: 13 December (UK), 14 December (US)
Well, we’re back in Middle Earth. It took Peter Jackson long enough, but he’s brought Tolkein’s tale of a hobbit on an adventure to fight a dragon to the big screen at last. Does it live up to its lofty expectations, or has it become tragically afflicted with Phantom Menace Syndrome?
The story of The Hobbit is a much simpler tale than The Lord of the Rings, but one Jackson still felt needed to be told in three parts. While this does give the film time to tell the entire story, it has a serious affect on the pacing of the movie. The film’s first act is heavy with character introductions and exposition, and while it improves once the quest begins the pace does lag occasionally there too. There are too many unnecessary scenes that should have been cut out and left for the Extended Blu-Ray (I’m looking at you, pointlessly shoved in Elijah Wood!), and there’s also way too much foreshadowing to the original trilogy. But if you enjoy the tales of Tolkein, you’ll still find it as faithful to the source material as Jackson’s previous efforts.
The cast of the film is vast, and it’s good that they found a good Bilbo Baggins in Martin Freeman. He plays the role with such innocence and charm that he’s hard not to like; a good change of tone compared to Wood’s almost emo portrayal of Frodo in Rings. Ian McKellen is as good as ever, slipping back into that wizard’s robe as if he never took it off. The dwarves, meanwhile, are hard to crack. They all look visually distinctive, but I still found it hard to remember most of their names. They just don’t have much character development and most of them are only memorable beyond appearance by one-note character traits. The rest of the cast are mostly cameos, but Andy Serkis steals the show once again in his brief return as the treacherous Gollum. Certain characters, such as Thranduil and the Necromancer, feel like they’re mainly here to establish them for the later films, and Smaug is barely seen but effectively so. The film just lacks the camaraderie the original team had, but hopefully the next two will embellish on that.
Controversy has surround Jackson’s decision to shoot the film in 48fps instead of the traditional 24fps since those mixed reactions came out of Cinema Con, and while certain complaints are valid I found it an interesting experiment. My main problem with it is that it occasionally causes the film to look like it’s been sped up (I refer to it as “The Benny Hill Effect”), and this effect becomes jarring constantly. Otherwise, it does what it’s advertised to do: it puts you more in the action and helps the 3-D to come alive in a more impressive way. Beyond tech details, the film is a visual masterpiece. The cinematography is grand, the designs incredible, and the visual effects are better than ever despite being overused. The score, whilst repeating a few too many tunes from the original trilogy, is still an epic score and makes me continue to wonder why Howard Shore doesn’t compose for more movies.
In the end, you’d have probably gone to see this movie no matter what I said. But I’m here to say that you’ll have a good time when you do. It is nowhere near as good as The Lord of the Rings, but I never thought it would be. Hopefully, the kinks in the armour of An Unexpected Journey will be ironed out and polished to perfection when the time comes to see both The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.
FINAL VERDICT: 8.5/10