This is the actual review part of my article on The Hobbit. For my verdict on whether or not seeking out an HFR (48fps High Frame Rate) screening is worth it, click HERE to read all about it.
It is also worth mentioning that there may be very slight SPOILERS in the following review so if you don't want to know anything about what happens in the film do not read until after you've seen it.
So, having watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey after all the hype, the short answer is: yes it is a good film and you should go and watch it providing you are not expecting it to be better than The Lord of the Rings films – which it is emphatically not.
Good points first: the production values are top-notch from costume and make-up to set design and locations – Middle Earth instantly feels like you are returning to a familiar world - whether it be The Shire, Rivendale or treacherous mountain passes, expansive plains or dank caves - but at the same time managing to being fresh and exciting. Although it would have been interesting to see Guillermo Del Toro’s take on it, you cannot fault Peter Jackson’s attention to detail and love of the source material in bringing Middle Earth to life.
The casting and performances are great, with Richard Armitage being a standout as Thorin, his character translated well from the book, effectively expressing emotions of having to live up to being a great leader which occasionally conflicts with his own selfish pride and stubbornness – a contrast to the more straight-forward and likeable character of Aragorn.
It is hard to imagine anyone but Martin Freeman in the role of Bilbo Baggins. Although you can see him channelling Tim from The Office and Arthur Dent at times, his exasperated everyman (everyhobbit?) thrust into extraordinary events, nails the part perfectly.
Its also nice to see a more naive, less-wise and a slightly less competent as a wizard portrayal of Gandalf (although Ian McKellen does actually look older) which makes sense in terms of when this story is set.
Now the criticisms – which most of them, interestingly, stem from two simple things: One – the source material is not as rich as the LOTR films, and TWO – the decision to extend this story from two films into a trilogy.
The Hobbit is by no means a bad movie, but you can certainly feel some pacing issues at times. The Lord of the Rings saga had the problem of condensing three epic books into three films. With The Hobbit they are attempting to stretch one significantly shorter book into three epic films. It just doesn't really add-up and as such becomes evident on screen.
Coupled with the occasionally forced attempts to tie-in with the Rings films by the foreshadowing of future events and cameos from certain characters such as old Bilbo, Frodo, Elrond, Galdriel and Saruman (as far as I remember only Elrond appeared in the book). This is all well and good and does serve to enrich the story and help fit it in with the greater mythology of Middle Earth - but it sometimes felt unnecessary and slows the pace too much. Its nice seeing Elijah Wood and Ian Holm back again but just the voiceover from old Bilbo at the beginning could have accomplished the same thing in a shorter time and been a sufficient prologue to the film.
For the time it takes for them to embark on their journey (its almost an hour in before they even leave The Shire) and through the subsequent film, only about half of the 13 Dwarves have enough to do to become a distinct character, but presumably we will get to know them more in the future films. Thorin and Bilbo do have sufficient character arcs however and I guess those two are the ones that really matter.
Similarly, Radagast the Brown is given way too much screen time for the function of his role and indeed much of his scenes could have been pared down for a sleeker running time.
The tone of the book of The Hobbit is a lot more child-friendly than Rings, which is accurately reflected in the film (such as the comedy trolls, the Goblin King) but once again this stands at odds when they tried to make it feel like the slightly more adult orientated Rings films (such as the flashbacks to the orc battle or the meeting at Rivendale). It constantly feels like a struggle between wanting to be another LOTR movie and being its own film.
That being said, the ‘Riddles in the Dark’ segment is one instance where it does all come together perfectly – being faithful to the book but also working in Andy Serkis’ unique take on Gollum and foreshadowing events through the recognisable strains of Howard Shore’s score from the earlier movies.
One further minor issue that irked me was the lack of the feeling of danger throughout. With the exception of the fleeting glimpse of what we see of the destructive power of Smaug, there is no real sense of immediate peril on their journey. Maybe it’s to do with Rings being a bit bloodier or having more practical effects, but there is only so much of seeing the Dwarves tumble down really long tunnels and chased endlessly by wargs without anyone seemingly getting hurt that before any sense of danger dissipates.
By the time you get to the (however awesomely realised) goblin escape sequence, despite being at risk of falling to their death on all sides or being killed by any of the hundreds of goblins that they manage to escape from – they all get away unscathed – you find yourself almost not caring. Rings had a more grounded and realistic approach and every encounter survived there felt like a genuine triumph. The only exception in this film comes in the form of Azog the Defiler whose presence feels like the only genuine threat throughout the film and even that is only in the film's final moments.
It may seem like a lot of criticism, but there is still much to enjoy about The Hobbit. Many of these negative points are a direct result of the studio’s decision to make three long films out of the relatively thin material of The Hobbit when the material is far more suited to say, two 2hr films.
That being said, The Hobbit is definitely worth watching – just bear in mind that it just doesn't quite live up to the lofty standards set by the LOTR trilogy so don't go in expecting that and you shouldn't be come out disappointed.
To read my thoughts on seeing The Hobbit in HFR, click HERE.
19 Dec 2012