The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: When it comes to this film, most of my knowledge came from what I remembered from the ZX Spectrum game released in 1982. Like every book-to-film adaption, apart from 1984 which I was forced to read while at school, I have never read the book and rely on the movie to tell the story. I just don’t read books. I’ve tried, but my mind wanders and I soon get bored.
So, I knew that we’d start with Bilbo Baggins (played here by Martin Freeman who’s surprisingly not as annoying as I thought he would be), although I didn’t realise his house would get so full of people before the journey began since on the ZX Spectrum we just saw Bilbo, Gandalf who would take the curious map, and Thorin who, unlike as in the film, would regularly sit down and start singing about gold. Well, to be fair, there were a couple of songs in the film including one led by Thorin (Richard Armitage) but I don’t remember him mentioning gold.
Anyway, in this first of three films based on JRR Tolkien’s novel, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) turns up at Bilbo’s house, who doesn’t realise the wizard has also invited thirteen dwarves with a view to including our titular hero on their adventure to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the fearsome dragon Smaug. I was rather tired to begin with when I was watching this, so I found myself getting mostly carried along with it and remembering the occasional scene from the video game such as the Orcs’ clearing during which they eventually get turned to stone. I remembered the mention of Rivendell and the meeting between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) and how things play out with the ring which Bilbo encounters for the first time.
This didn’t need to be near-three hours long. Yes, I can understand Peter Jackson wanting to turn every last page of the book into a movie scene, but films need to zip along a bit faster and it takes a good 40 minutes or so to get out of Bilbo’s house and onto the journey itself, when a good 10-15 minutes could’ve been cut from that. And later on, once you’ve seen them all cross one field, you’ve seen them cross them all. Same with them being chased by monsters. Then take the meeting between Bilbo and Gollum. This was quite late on and seemed to go on forever to the point where I was starting to drift off – that sort of drifting off where you close your eyes for a moment and still think you’re keeping up with what’s being said, even though you can’t recall any of it afterwards and you eventually realise you probably weren’t paying attention at all.
While the special FX are exceptional, less is more and my bum was getting incredibly numb in a busy cinema. And when you prepare yourself for a 169-minute film in 3D IMAX, you don’t expect, as it was the first time they had done this, to be bombarded with endless adverts and trailers including a 10-minute preview for Star Trek: Into Darkness, which looks good but while watching it I was thinking, “Right, but when is The Hobbit going ot start?”
Back to the fact this has been made into three films, even die-hard fans of the book have said that it could easily have just been made into one great film. However, you can tell that as Peter Jackson has already put one big boxset on the shelves of film fans, he’ll want to cash in with another trilogy, despite the fact he claimed in an interview that he wasn’t cashing in, he just shot so much great footage that I wanted to show it all”.
On a technical note, I was very impressed with the 48-frames-per-second technology that has been brought in for this film. I previously saw complaints that “it makes everything look like a film set” and another that read “I could see Gandalf’s contact lenses”. Okay, well, the light did shine off his eyes a bit, but I wouldn’t have thought about his eye-wear had I not read that, and as for looking at a film set… erm… Middle Earth isn’t real so it can *only* have been a film set!
Watching it for the first time, I noticed mainly that, especially during panning shots, everything seemed to pass by a lot more quickly than it normally does – rather like the CGI in a video game, naturally because there’s twice as many frames on view, but this also reminded me of how my 50″ Panasonic TV (TX-P50UT50B) behaves in similar circumstances. I presume, in the case of my TV, it’s because the refresh rate of the television is going twice as fast as the source material behind it and so this effect comes about but it can be disconcerting initially. For the cinema, however, knowing this was intentional I just sat back and lapped it up. There were many wonderful sights to behold – not always as easily seen given how we ended up sat four rows from the front, which was the only way we could get a fairly central seat. And the fact the vision on display was so marvellous meant that I wasn’t really paying a lot of attention to the dialogue. I’d read about a scene involving Gandalf and not-in-the-book Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) by a waterfall and how the water draws your attention away from what’s being said. In fact, the scene also includes Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) and I can’t tell you what any of them said because I was too entranced by the CGI scenery.
In fact, when it comes to IMAX, the optimum position is to be sat as centrally in the auditorium as possible. Sit to the side a bit too much and the curved screen makes people at the edges look like their heads have been stretched, and the same also happens when you’re sat too close, even though the latter brought about some incredible shots in the close-ups of characters’ faces, particularly those from Gollum.
I’ve never actually seen any of the Lord of the Rings films all the way through, and wasn’t planning to make this a must-see, but I’m glad I did do for all the technical doohickey on display, and as such may well go and see the sequels because, while I know most of the plot will go over my head and I won’t remember a great deal about it, Peter Jackson and co. know how to deliver on the CGI front. And given that the sequel is subtitled, The Desolation of Smaug, you can expect the dragon will be turning up now and again. On that point, it’s interesting to note that the sequel is released on the same date as this film, December 13th, albeit in 2013, while the final film in the trilogy, subtitled, There and Back Again, is out on July 18th 2014. Presumably to ensure healthy Blu-ray boxset sales… or maybe we’ll all be watching films at home via direct memory transplant by then.
I’ll have to catch The Hobbit again when it comes out on 3D Blu-ray so I can fill in the gaps with what I didn’t quite manage to pay attention to, though I know that even on a large TV I won’t catch anywhere near as much visual detail as I can in the cinema. There’s some nice comic timing in there along with decent performances. While actors like Blanchett and Weaving looked like they were going through the motions, and Christopher Lee looks like he’s dead and no-one’s told him, McKellen can act everyone off the stage simply with a raised eyebrow. Everyone else is fine, but none seem particularly worthy of mention.
Running time: 169 minutes
Released: December 20th 2012
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Redcode RAW (5K))
Viewed at: Odeon Cinema, Manchester Printworks
Director: Peter Jackson
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Zane Weiner
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro (based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Music: Howard Shore
Gandalf: Ian McKellen
Bilbo Baggins: Martin Freeman
Thorin Oakenshield: Richard Armitage
Balin: Ken Stott
Dwalin: Graham McTavish
Bifur/Tom Troll: William Kircher
Bofur: James Nesbitt
Bombur: Stephen Hunter
Fili: Dean O’Gorman
Kili: Aidan Turner
Oin: John Callen
Gloin/William Troll: Peter Hambleton
Nori: Jed Brophy
Dori/Bert Troll: Mark Hadlow
Ori: Adam Brown
Old Bilbo: Ian Holm
Frodo: Elijah Wood
Elrond: Hugo Weaving
Galadriel: Cate Blanchett
Saruman: Christopher Lee
Gollum: Andy Serkis
Radagast: Sylvester McCoy
Great Goblin: Barry Humphries
Thror: Jeffrey Thomas
Thrain: Michael Mizrahi
Thranduil: Lee Pace
Azog: Manu Bennett
Bolg: Conan Stevens
Yazneg: John Rawls
Fimbul/Grinnah: Stephen Ure
Master Worrywort: Timothy Bartlett
Lindir: Bret McKenzie
Goblin Scribe: Kiran Shah
Necromancer: Benedict Cumberbatch
Dwarf Miner: Glenn Boswell
Young Thrain: Thomas Robins
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.