Film Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Warner Bros. 2012)

BY PETER MCLOUGHLIN The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an excellent fantasy spectacle. There are slight issues with length and script, and the frame rate and 3D are not as effective as they should be, but thanks to the effort of the studio – the care, craft and love in its production is evident throughout – and the near-perfect musical score, The Hobbit… is a wonderful production. The characters too are well-realised – Martin Freeman is understated in the lead role, and the baker’s dozen of Dwarves whose quest set the film in motion are comically rich, well cast and well developed throughout. Sir Ian McKellen is delightfully exaggerated and enjoyably smug as Gandalf. Gollum as ever is played with scene-stealing excellence by Andy Serkis. (A point to make would be that The Fellowship of the Ring is widely considered one of the best films ever, and Gollum doesn’t have an ‘acting’ role in that film. Yet, in The Hobbit…, the ten minutes with Gollum are the best ten minutes of the film, by far). The franchise prides itself on telling its stories in its own time – and even if you aren’t a fan of the novel, the film isn’t boring by any means. But arguably, if anything, the action scenes are unnecessarily drawn out, and if they didn’t rely so consistently in two-thirds of the film on the old cliff-hanger trope they could have shaved a good half hour off the running time without touching the core of the film – the actual story. And while the script is not altogether bad it is still the most over-wrought aspect of the film. The Hobbit… suffers from the same issue of over-sentimentality as The Return of the King, and, further, the dialogue is preachy at times where the other films in the franchise are not. At one point, Gandalf, while talking to Galadriel, turns away from her to stare almost directly into the camera, as a fuzzy orange sunset silhouettes him, to talk about the ‘little things’ in life that make people great. Gandalf may be right, but he should rather stick to telling the characters in the film how he feels, and not the audience. And so, on to 3D, 48fps. 48fps is a noticeable upgrade is the sharpness of the visuals, but it does not improve the cinematic experience in any significant way. In the moments of slow, natural, landscape shots – particularly with the few waterfall shots – the 3D cinematography is immense and, oddly, my favourite scenes in the film were these gloriously rendered backdrops (perhaps that says enough). However, when the action picks up – even slightly – the 3D not only blurs everything uncomfortably, but it also serves to highlight its digital origins. In the opening section of the film, the group of Dwarves that come to the Bilbo’s home start throwing plates about, and it looks embarrassingly cartoon because of the way the plates are rendered in 3D. The frame rate and the 3D affect the dynamics between the human and digital animation in a negative sense too – one is more obviously fake compared to the other as a result of the high quality of the image. The 3D, 48fps is actually a bit of a distraction, but it does not ruin the film.

Howard Shore’s soundtrack on the other hand is glorious. Where the film visually (and in the script) tries too blatantly to link what is happening in The Hobbit… with what happens in TLOTR – for example, Gollum screams something like ‘I will hate you… FOREVER!!!’ after he and Bilbo’s

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meeting, and it is needlessly obvious – Shore’s soundtrack – in Hobbiton, in Rivendell and beyond – integrates segments of TLOTR’s enchanting score into its own. “Concerning Hobbit’s” makes a most welcome return. The soundtrack does as much to recall and reinforce the story as any other medium, and it’s done with real subtlety and class. The film as a whole is not a major drop in quality from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which are some of the best films ever made. The sets and the scenery, the make-up and the detail in every aspect of the environment and setting are of the highest order. The acting is excellent (it is more a matter of having to deal with ham-fisted lines than not being able to act well), the digital animation is as carefully constructed as ever – Gollum in particular is just exquisite. The soundtrack is, alongside the soundtracks to TLOTR’s, some of the best music for film ever made, and everyone should own it.

If TLOTR had still to be made, and The Hobbit… was the first in the franchise, it would probably seem like a greater feat – because it is a great cinematic construction. It does fall short in enough significant (formulaic, schmaltzy) ways to keep it from being held in the same standing as the rest of the franchise, but, nevertheless, it is an excellent film.

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