Written by Chris Winterbottom
My love for Peter Jackson’s master works, ‘The Lord Of The Rings’, is unmatched. Never have I seen any one film which dumbfounded and moved me in such a way as those three each did. The three films were beautiful, extraordinary works that, for me, transcended the film world and became truly great pieces of art. So when it was announced that we would be transported back to the brilliantly realised Middle-Earth, my excitement went beyond what is probably socially acceptable. Guillermo del Toro was attached to direct too, a wonder move in itself considering the success he had with ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’; a film many consider to be one of, if not the finest productions of the 00’s.
However, del Toro dropped out due to time constraints, after funding and pre-production problems plagued ‘The Hobbit’ starting its adventure. Finally, Peter Jackson stepped into the director’s shoes; a journey Jackson himself was probably not expecting. The story sees a young Bilbo, played brilliantly by Martin Freeman, ambushed by a number of unidentifiable dwarfs who hire him as a “burglar”, in order to help them reclaim their homeland under The Lonely Mountain. The film opens in typically blistering style, with a prologue that is both exhilarating and intense. You gain a real sense of the colossal beast that is Smaug, the dragon, without ever really seeing him (all in good time).
But the opening is only one layer in an overall structure that matches the exact same beats as those seen in ‘The Fellowship Of The Ring’. Perhaps this is due to the way Tolkien’s source material was written, or maybe Jackson slipped into a comfortable groove; either way, you would be forgiven for thinking this feels all too familiar. It didn’t matter to me though. With Jackson at the helm, I knew I was in safe hands. As soon as the opening credits began, and Howard Shore’s beautiful score caressed my ears, I felt a wave of nostalgia I had not had since watching a rerelease of ‘Jurassic Park’. It reminded me of my mid-teens, when the original trilogy was released, and I could not help but smile.
Many have voiced their disappointment of this film (and the subsequent installments) and I can understand why. It is far too long, an opinion that is more objective than subjective. The decision to split the films into two, and then eventually three films, reeked of Hollywood greed, and you would be right to think so. But I have no problems spending three hours of my life in the company of Bilbo and his comrades, mainly due to the terrific central performance of Martin Freeman. He manages to capture the brief glimpse of the character originally brought to life by Ian Holme in the original trilogy, and yet he manages to make the performance his own. It brings a consistency to the character, played by two actors, and seamlessly ties the films together. However, it is Sir Ian McKellen who steals the show, providing gravitas, effortless charisma and a multi-dimensional performance to a character who was already very well established. Plaudits should also go to Andy Serkis, who reprises his role a Gollum. He manages to convey the split personality of the slimy creature perfectly, even with just the blink of his CG-eye.
Of course, the film is less groundbreaking than any of the original trilogy. But then, ‘The Lord Of The Rings’ series is essentially a world war, whilst Bilbo and the Dwarves’ story is far more intimate, and yet Jackson makes it feel no less important. Despite its length, Jackson manages to balance this story with the over-arching plot of the “One Ring” perfectly, and even with a more whimsical tone, Jackson maintains a claustrophobic sense of dread layered in the film. A lot of the criticism was aimed at Jackson’s decision to shoot the film at 48 frames per second (FPS). The idea was to reduce light loss in the 3D performances and improve the picture quality. Actually, to the eye trained on 24 FPS (the industry standard), the picture was so vivid it made the costumes and special effects look false. Also, the characters and events seem to take place in a speed that seemed unnatural. Shooting the film at 48 FPS clearly didn’t work – but at least Jackson took a risk. How many other directors would have taken a franchise as big as this one and conducted an experiment all in the name of improving the experience? I can’t think of any. It was a brave honourable decision, which unfortunately didn’t pay off.
‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ did not live up to the legend of the original films, but then again what does? I enjoyed the film in general – there were even moments that took my breath away – but there is no escaping the films flaws.
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Sir Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch