Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Ever since Peter Jackson announced his plans to follow up the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy with a film adaptation of The Hobbit, Tolkien fans have been on tenterhooks. It’s been a long time coming, too; negotiation breakdowns and changes of Director in the early stages left the film in pre-production hell. For a number of years, it looked as though The Hobbit would never go on an adventure at all.

It’s a good thing, then, that The Hobbit doesn’t disappoint. From the very first scene, we’re led back down memory lane as an older Bilbo Baggins, played endearingly by Ian Holm, begins to write down his adventures for his nephew, Frodo. The familiar face of Elijah Wood isn’t the only throwback to the Lord of the Rings trilogy: the New Zealand scenery is again used to magnificent effect, and the soundtrack is, as expected, incredible.

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However, The Hobbit stands on its own (large and hairy) feet as a separate entity apart from its predecessors. Martin Freeman proves all his doubters wrong in his turn as Bilbo Baggins, playing his part with a quiet confidence. The script lends itself readily to his particular brand of grumpy humour, offering more comedic moments than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, although it’s not only Freeman that gets the laughs in this film: a particularly hilarious scene involves a group of semi-intoxicated dwarves throwing plates around and singing. Sounds ridiculous, but in the context of the film, it’s actually pretty pivotal.

Gollum makes a welcome reappearance, of course, in what is probably the centrepiece of the film. Those more familiar with the book might know what’s coming when Bilbo first encounters the strange ex-Hobbit, but they’ll still be on the edge of their seats, the soundtrack and cinematography providing an atmosphere of nail-biting tension. It’s easy to see how the motion capture technology has improved in the nine years since The Return of the King, and Andy Serkis is clearly having fun with it. There’s a host of new characters too; the band of dwarves that Bilbo accompanies are all great fun, and the make-up department have done an excellent job of transforming renowned actors such as Richard Armitage and James Nesbitt into an unrecognisably scruffy bunch. It’s also amusing to note that the one dwarf whose face isn’t marred by a huge prosthetic nose is played by Aidan Turner. Thank you, make-up department.

The film is not without its flaws, however. At 169 minutes long, some scenes feel unnecessary. At the announcement that the book would be adapted into a trilogy the same length as the Lord of the Rings, many fans were unsure as to how the relatively short book could be stretched that far, and it seems that Jackson’s technique for this is to simply extrapolate on scenes that could be a lot shorter. Cut-scenes, flashbacks and slow-motion are all used to a slightly erroneous extent in this film. That said, the plot progresses at a steady pace and never seems to be lagging, which has been a problem with some of Jackson’s other directorial attempts (King Kong, anybody?)

Overall, The Hobbit more than lives up to the incredible hype that’s built up around it. One can only hope that, after such a promising first instalment, the next two are just as worth waiting for.