THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, and Barry Humphries. Directed by Peter Jackson. Rated M (Fantasy violence). 169 min.
This film is the first of a three-part cinema adaptation of the 1937 novel, “The Hobbit”, by J. R. R. Tolkien. Two more (“The Desolation of Smaug” and “There and Back Again”) are planned for release over the next two years. The movie uses a new technology that speeds up the standard number of frames shown per second, a process which is used to produce sharply realistic images.
The film tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the Hobbit, who is invited by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to accompany him and 13 dwarves on a dangerous journey across Middle-earth to Erebor to reclaim stolen treasure taken by a dragon, Smaug The Terrible. At Lonely Mountain, well before the events of "The Lord of The Rings", Smaug ravaged the Kingdom of Erebor and the dwarves live in exile.
The group is led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), and The Quest of Erebor takes Bilbo from his home in The Shire through the Elven stronghold of Rivendell to the Goblin-infested Misty Mountains. Here, Bilbo encounters a creature (Andy Serkis) by the name of Gollum that will affect his life forever. Gollum thrills with his special mix of nastiness, self-pity, and paranoia.
On the journey to Erebor, terrible events happen, and creatures attack from all directions. Evil Orcs, vicious Wargs, hungry Trolls, and giant spiders, are all there to help harass or destroy Bilbo and the dwarves. Barry Humphries is colourfully sinister as the Great Goblin, the ruler of the underground caverns in the Misty Mountains.
This is a film, that is just ten minutes shorter than three hours. Like “The Lord of The Rings”, it is action-packed, and takes the viewer on a journey of epic proportions. The film is full of eccentric, and marvellously delineated fantasy figures, some of which (Cate Blanchett, as Galadriel; Hugo Weaving, as Elrond; and Ian Holm as an older Bilbo) are familiar, and it captures the folklore genre established by Tolkien. Its imagery is a mixture of dark fantasy and vivid imagination, and shows the influence of Mexican director, Guillermo del Toro, who was involved originally with the movie.
Amidst the special effects and technological marvels of the film, the movie preserves the human qualities that have set Tolkien’s novels, and Peter Jackson's direction of them apart. Bilbo, for instance, discovers courage, gentle cunning and strength that surprises himself, as well as others; Gandalf demonstrates virtuous goodness through his constant acts of kindness; and the group of dwarves shows unexpected bravery.
There is an overload of splendid action in this movie, and the detail of it all distracts a little from larger themes that in "The Lord of The Rings" had more lyrical impact. This is a super-charged production, which sets the stage almost immediately for expanded story-telling. Although the technological marvels of the cinematic processes behind it make the movie totally engrossing, the film’s imaginative sweep contrasts incongruously at times with the incredible realism of its imagery.
“The Lord of The Rings” was a triumph. This film attempts to turn a slighter story into something of the same. Although the movie is awe-inspiringly spectacular, hopefully the next two films in the series will be a little shorter, show us a less abundant number of awful creatures, and expose us to fewer perils.
Throughout, the scenery is wonderful. New Zealand is perfect for its majestically sweeping landscapes where stone giants can do fierce battle on rock faces, and tiny figures can roam purposefully through their land to try to put things right.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 26th. December, 2012.