Saturday, 5 January 2013

Movie Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Title: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Year Released: 2012
Running Time: 169 minutes
Classification: PG-13
Genre: Fantasy, Action/Adventure

This was probably the movie I was most looking forward to in 2012. Nothing has matched Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy since its release a decade ago and if something were to come close, this would be it. I watched the production videos, read the kerfuffle about The Hobbit becoming three movies rather than two and heard tales of nausea caused by the newfangled 48fps. So yeah. Whatever the reviews were going to be I knew I'd be watching this regardless.

A prequel of sorts to LOTR, The Hobbit tells the story of hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who finds himself on an unexpected journey with thirteen dwarves setting out to reclaim their mountain home. Compared to LOTR, the scope is a lot less epic; it's an adventure story, essentially, though other material has been inserted into the original story to beef it up. As a result, the movie manages to be some three hours long and is comprised largely of set-up for the next films.

There's a lot in the way of action, not much in the way of story progression. A good half hour or so into the film and we're (probably) still in the Shire. The pacing is very slow and I literally almost fell asleep. Orcs attack, trolls attack, elves talk and dwarves walk. Stuff happens but we don't really get anywhere. Some scenes are genuinely riveting, the highlight for me being the appearance of the delightfully creepy Gollum (Andy Serkis). The film does improve as it goes along, which is just as well or I would have left the cinema quite unhappy. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that the dwarves don't get to reclaim their mountain home in the end – not in this movie anyway. Consider yourselves warned.

Half of my enjoyment of this film came from the nostalgia brought on by revisiting Middle Earth – from hearing the familiar score and from seeing Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and everyone else, including Figwit (Bret McKenzie). Like LOTR, the film looks fantastic; the scenery and the design of the locations are simply majestic. Even the costumes and make-up are works of art.

My only disappointment – in terms of visuals – lies with the dwarves. First, I had been hoping to see some dwarven women in the flashbacks (because beards), but alas no (as far as I know). Second, and I am probably alone in this complaint, but Thorin (dwarf leader Richard Armitage) and Kili (hot dwarf Aidan Turner) were too attractive. Don't get me wrong – I liked the both of them, but they just looked like men and only strangely shortish men when standing next to Gandalf. Given that the film is largely populated with monsters and comical looking dwarves, I suppose you can see why they'd want to insert some eye-candy. If you compare The Hobbit with the LOTR films, Thorin is like a more formal/sombre/angsty version of Aragorn and Kili, if you squint, is a rugged kind of Legolas. A key criterion of both LOTR roles is, of course, the ability to explode ovaries at twenty paces. So there you go, we have ourselves some hot dwarves.

As for the new 48 frames per second technology, I just thought it made things really really clear, sort of like when we made the transition to HD or when you upgrade your glasses after a trip to the optometrist. I can't decide if I like it. Sometimes everything on screen looked really stunning and beautiful, sometimes I felt that I was looking at a movie set, and I can't pinpoint why. I personally didn't find it nauseating at all, but then again I have always been fine with 3D and so on.

I liked so much about this movie: the visuals, the characters, the music – but it was just so darned slow and I wanted them all to hurry up and get to the mountain already. I've found that my enjoyment of the Lord of the Rings movies is increased when I watch them all in close succession and I hope the same will be true of The Hobbit trilogy. For now, however, I can only feel vaguely underwhelmed and wait for the next film.

Alex's Rating: 3/5

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