Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit is a long-winded, tedious affair. And as we know, this is only the first part of three epic entries into a trilogy that would have very nicely fit into one film. There’s something a little sad about how a book as simple and charming as its title character has been twisted into this sprawling, extended pantomime of battles and set-pieces. But, as they say, that’s show business for you. I’m not sure what to make of this a current vogue of splitting single literary volumes up into several parts, but in terms of The Hobbit I feel it has been a sorry misstep.
But that’s enough of the negative (for now). Let’s turn to the positive (temporarily). Martin Freeman in superb as Bilbo Baggins, the mild-mannered, good natured little Hobbit who gets swept up into an adventure far bigger than him. The inspired casting continues with the Dwarves who accompany him. They are populated with family faces from British television, including Richard Armitage, Ken Stott and James Nesbitt. The powerful Wizard Gandalf is once again excellently brought to life by Ian McKellen, one of our country’s best actors and for me the life and soul of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The biggest problem I had with the film was its inability to leave The Lord of the Rings alone. I know it’s set in the same world with characters who wonder between the novels, but The Hobbit is a standalone text. It has links with the epic trilogy, but it is not part of it. Although the look of the film is very different, a lot of it plays out as if it were just another chapter in The Lord of the Rings. Characters who don’t appear in The Hobbit pop up for rather pointless cameos. Even Cate Blanchett’s Galadriel has a rather weird encounter with Gandalf; a couple between which I would never have expected to see a frisson of sexual tension blossom.
A lot of fuss has been made about the high frame rate of The Hobbit. Instead of being filmed in the standard 24 frames per second, it was given 48 frames per second. Most cinemas will not be showing complete, proper high frame rate performances though (as far as I know, mine was not an ‘HFR’ performance). However, the look and feel of the action is a little different – different enough I think for me to notice even if I had never read anything about how it was made. Everything seems a little more fluid. The downside to this is that it does feel a little like television. At some points I felt I was watching an HD episode of Casualty on the big screen (if it were done in fancy dress with high production values, of course…and set way back in the past in a very ancient Holby).
Howard Shore’s music score, though very reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings (a lot of the old themes are recycled, but sensitively so), is absolutely wonderful. Some of the CGI animation looked a bit dodgy (the woodland animals could have wandered out of Tangled), but there are plenty of shots that have the power to take one’s breath away. Some of the battle scenes and the encounters with trolls are terrifically done.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, to give it its full title, is a watchable enough film, but it distorts Tolkien’s vision into something it never was. It smacks a little too much of The Lord of the Rings: The College Years to be truly great. It is never allowed to flourish into a story of its own. Although I was entertained through a lot of it, I cannot help but feel a sense of melancholy dissatisfaction about the whole thing.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), directed by Peter Jackson, is released in UK cinemas by Warner Bros. Pictures, Certificate 12A.