"A room without books is like a body without a soul." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by Peter Jackson

I’m not going to go into any detail about the premise, as I covered that in my book review, which you can find here. I’m also not going to go into extensive comparisons of the book and the film, although you may find me comparing The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (which I will from now on refer to as The Hobbit) and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) films, since they were all directed by Peter Jackson.  

With The Hobbit being one of my favourite books, I was extremely sceptical about this film release. This was exacerbated upon the announcement that this fairly short children’s novel would be stretched into a trilogy with each instalment pushing 3 hours in order to incorporate lore from the LOTR appendices and other works of Tolkien such as The Silmarillion and Tales from the Perilous Realm. Further to this, the trailer left me feeling disappointed; Bilbo didn’t look grumpy enough for my liking, and it was packed with many of the comic moments from the film, making it look like a bit of a joke. In fact I was so sceptical that I very nearly didn’t bother going to see it, but I’m really glad I did...

First of all, the characters are true to the book and the acting is brilliant. Ian McKellen reprises his role of wizened and wise Gandalf the Grey, and continues doing a stellar job. The dwarves - except for Thorin Oakenshield - are very entertaining and likeable. The moody and bad-ass Thorin was portrayed by Richard Armitage, who again was great in the role. Contrary to my initial reaction to the trailer, Martin Freeman did an excellent job of playing the reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins, making the transition well from hidebound Baggins to adventurous Took by the end of the film. 

The Hobbit is visually stunning. I really enjoyed some of the scenes where the group were just walking; the camera shoots them from a distance and pans over some breath-taking scenery of New Zealand. The film was generally really beautiful to look at.

On top of this, the special effects were very good, with some impressive CGI (except for on Radagast’s woodland friends, but I’ll get to that later), particularly for the trolls. The dwarves might arguably be described as a bit silly in appearance (except for Kili), but this fits with their humourous and mischievous nature. 

A fantastic feature of The Hobbit is that it manages to keep a perfect balance between peril and light heartedness. The LOTR trilogy was a bit too serious, so whenever anything mildly comic happened it didn’t quite fit. The Hobbit has scarier moments full of danger, but at the same time it has funny moments - such as the brilliant scene with the trolls - which maintain a lighter atmosphere than LOTR

Many fans of the novel LOTR dislike some of the plot alterations made in Jackson’s film adaptation. The Hobbit makes no unnecessary plot changes though, except for the aforementioned additions from other Tolkien books. These extras are not prevalent and do not alter the original story; moreover they are seamlessly integrated and work well, the exception being the inclusion of wizard Radagast the Brown, who for some reason we see frolicking with woodland creatures, riding on a sled pulled by rabbits and nursing a very obviously CGI’d cartoonish hedgehog back to health. Radagast’s inclusion is relevant to the plot, but I could have done without the weird animal stuff.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the first instalment of The Hobbit trilogy, and I eagerly await the two sequels. The acting is superb, the visuals are superb, and the story (of course) is superb. Despite being close to 3 hours long, the length is not an issue; the film is so good that it doesn’t feel too long at all, and I was surprised when I checked the time and discovered it was nearly finished. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a film that Tolkien fans and fantasy-virgins alike can enjoy, and one that will succeed in entertaining adults and children for 3 hours too.

Rating: 8/10

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