Film Review: ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012) ****
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
If Peter Jackson had decided to pack up after his 2004 academy awards sweep, he would have collected enough directorial kudos points to buy a first class ticket home to New Zealand, purchase a nice little hole in Hobbiton and spend the rest of his days trying to finish watching the director’s cut of ‘Return of the King’. But laurel resting is not Jackson’s style. True, some of his more recent ventures have been met with mixed reviews (Remember 2009’s ‘The Lovely Bones?’ Me neither.) His much-anticipated newest venture ‘The Hobbit’ has been in the pipeline for six years, and took 18 months to complete. (what the heck kind of title is ‘Lovely Bones’ anyway?) Jackson’s passion for pushing technological boundaries has resulted in this, the first of a new trilogy, being offered up in no less that 6 viewing flavours including 2D, 3D HFR and IMAX 3D HFR. This new 48 Frames per second filming speed offers the cinema goer a chance to see the movie at a more ‘life-like’ pace, with double the screen refresh rate and a viewing experience only matched by live theatre.
The Movie itself tells the story of how Bilbo Baggins, uncle to Frodo, began his very own unexpected adventure sixty years before the armies of men, elves and dwarves were even a twinkle in the evil Sauron’s eye. Bilbo’s sedentary existence in his Shire home is shaken by the arrival of Gandalf, reprised by Sir Ian McKellen, and twelve Dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Bilbo soon becomes wrapped in the Dwarves’ quest to slay the Dragon Smaug, who took their mountain home and fortune.
‘The Hobbit’ is exactly what many hardcore fans will expect from Jackson who hits the right balance of nostalgia, humour, adventure and peril successfully throughout. Some scenes even drew a familiar tear of pride, in a character we feel we’ve known all our lives. At three hours long, ‘The Hobbit’ is a story which for one second, does not feel like it is outstaying its welcome. Jackson, along with composer Howard Shore reignite the feelings left behind at the door of ‘Return of the King’ with an emotive and familiar soundtrack, the quality and originality of which are raised by the addition of hypnotic dwarven melodies, and updated theme tracks. Martin Freeman as Bilbo plays the role with extraordinary range and understanding. His riddles in the dark scene, where Bilbo meets Golem (Andy Serkis) is both humours and eye wincingly tense at times. The main key to the success of this movie however, is the relationship between the Dwarf characters played by amongst others, James Nesbitt and Ken Stott. Jackson provides them with a depth and emotive background not seen in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Trilogy which undoubtedly improves their likability amongst audiences.
I saw this film in 3D HFR and, unlike trying to convince your girlfriend of the differences between pricey HD televisions, here the visual effects hits you immediately. The characters appear to move almost awkward and comically fast at first, and the high refresh rate gives the brighter scenes the feeling that you’re watching the production being filmed live through a large hole in the wall leading directly to the Misty Mountains. Fair enough I hear you cry, surely this technique can only further draw the audience into each scene? Well, where the novelty of HFR added reality and clarity to scenes of great action and gorgeous landscapes, I believe you inherently lose the feeling of watching a cinematic epic. The novelty of the HFR actually drew my attention away from the first 30 minutes of the movie so much, that it was hard to concentrate on the story unfolding before me. We have spent nearly 100 years adjusting to the 24 frames per second norm whether we like it or not. On watching this film you will realise that there HAS been a difference between movies and real life all along, and whether audiences warm to this or not remains to be seen. Personally I have to say it is impossible to make a judgement on this new 48 frames per second technique as a whole until I have seen it in action a few more times. Its distraction means I really have to go and see ‘The Hobbit’ in plain old 28 frames per second (is this now Low Frame Rate?) to get my head totally around the story, a feeling I will not be alone in.
While HFR cinema is clearly the future (twice as clear in fact), I am just not sure that ‘The Hobbit’ will benefit from being the film that breaks us in. Whatever way Jackson decides to film the next two Hobbit movies, he has set himself up with very strong foundations. For me this movie is much superior to ‘The fellowship of the Ring’, and if the next two movies are anything like ‘The Two Towers’ and ‘Return of the King’, we are in for something very special. While many fans are dubious about how Jackson fills what looks to be a 9-10 hour trilogy from a 320 page children’s book, ‘The Hobbit’ is as magical, enthralling and action packed a journey as many, unlike Bilbo, should have expected.
By Matthew Collins