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Film review: THE HOBBIT – AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, from Built For Speed

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy, is easily the most anticipated film of the year.  The film’s arrival has, however, been preceded by several controversies not the least of which were accusations of animal cruelty on the set, something Peter Jackson has vehemently denied.

Controversy surrounding the film itself began with the fact that The Hobbit has been adapted into three films despite the book being a single tome and shorter than any of the Lord of the Rings volumes.  To expand The Hobbit into a trilogy, Jackson has incorporated other aspects of Tolkien mythology and Middle Earth history from books like The Silmarillion.  He has also added sequences to make the Hobbit films connect more directly with the Lord of the Rings movies.  On the strength of this first Hobbit instalment, the story tinkering has not detracted too much from its impact as a cracking adventure although it is slow in parts.

The tale of hobbit Bilbo Baggins’ and the wizard Gandalf joining a band of dwarves to recover a valuable gem from the dragon Smaug is mostly told with clarity and forcefulness.  After a sedate start the film turns into a non-stop action fest although these sequences do become repetitive as they battle goblins, then orcs, then trolls and whatever hideous cgi monster comes their way.

What does detract from the film, however, is the screening format where the film is shown at 48 frames per second (fps) instead of the traditional 24.  This was meant to make the film look startlingly realistic but instead it makes it look distractingly weird.  The picture is extremely clear but it’s like we’re watching videotape.  It’s as if the frame has been scrubbed and polished leaving the film devoid of texture and atmosphere.  Some shots also seem over-exposed with glaring light that recalls an early 80’s music video.  Also, disconcertingly, the characters seem to move too quickly as if someone has hit the fast forward button.  These issues, combined with the 3D and some questionable-looking cgi, shove the artifice of the film in the audience’s face and make it very hard to become immersed in the Hobbit world.  It is important to note that many cinemas are showing The Hobbit at 24 fps and in 2D.

A generally excellent cast, however, help draw us back into the film.  Martin Freeman is his usual likeable and amusing self as the nervous and fussy Bilbo Baggins. Sir Ian McKellan is once again commanding yet intriguingly troubled as Gandalf.  Richard Armitage who plays dwarf leader Thorin is the resident Aragorn, a fierce warrior with a royal heritage who thinks Bilbo’s too much of a pussy-wimp to be on such a quest.  Some of the dwarf characters (of which there are 13), however, are less appealing as they’re just annoyingly boisterous hairy, slobs who seem to be there as broad comic relief.

A controversial inclusion is the wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) a character mentioned only briefly in the book but given a more extensive role here.  He’s a bumbling comical character who gets around on a sled pulled by bunny rabbits and looks like he could do with a wash and a delousing.  He’s reminiscent of Michael Palin’s crazy man with the Juniper bush in Life of Brian and some may find him silly and irritating.

The film also sees the unexpected return of Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Christopher Lee as Saruman, two characters who don’t appear in the book but are included to emphasise the fact that events in The Hobbit have far reaching implications for Middle Earth.  A very welcome return is Gollum with his tortured mind and disturbing comb over.  His tense subterranean stand-off with Bilbo is one of the film’s highlights.

Those looking to continue that fix of rousing action adventure they grew to love in the Lord of the Rings movies will have plenty to enjoy in The Hobbit but (if viewing the film at 48 fps) the film’s visual style may prove too much of a hurdle for those not totally enamoured of the earlier films and Tolkien’s mythology.

 

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: M

Director(s): Peter Jackson

Release date: 26th Dec 2012

Running time: 169 mins.

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