0 Thank goodness for Gollum: It's plodding, overblown and strains the eyes, but one unlikely saviour makes The Hobbit worth the journey
Those who felt that in making three films out of one book Peter Jackson was attempting to make a misty mountain out of a molehill will find their fears are well-founded.
Jackson’s gigantic Lord Of The Rings trilogy was a cinematic triumph; The Hobbit is an attempt to turn Tolkien’s previous children’s book, a relatively slim volume, into a three-part epic.
Whether that is for artistic or commercial reasons is open to debate, but the result is a first film that feels unduly long and overblown. If you’re hoping for another masterpiece, you’ll need to lower your expectations.
Back again: Andy Serkis makes a welcome return in the film as Gollum
The good news is that within that overall failure are many successful elements: funny scenes, thrilling action sequences, pathos, good acting and inventive direction. The movie offers moments of enchantment for those who are patient, and ends with some spectacular action sequences that augur well for the next two films.
So it’s not as good as I hoped, but it’s a lot better than I feared.
The controversial decision to shoot the movie at 48 frames per second — twice the usual number — makes for high-definition clarity. But it gives the characters a plasticated appearance, and feels like watching a pretentious version of Teletubbies on the world’s biggest HD television screen.
Everyone feels a bit over made-up. And watching 3D for so long is a strain on the eyes; it didn’t make me feel nauseous, but I never felt it was adding much to the story.
The central problem is the decision to spread a relatively simple tale over too many minutes. Jackson and his fellow screenwriters are guilty of major pacing mistakes, and a film that runs 170 minutes could usefully have been trimmed to around the two-hour mark.
Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins (pictured) in the film. He makes a humble hero out of the unadventurous hobbit plucked out of obscurity
There is much that needed cutting, or at least relegation to a director’s cut on DVD. The initial descent of the dwarves on Bilbo’s humdrum existence in Hobbiton goes on for 50 overlong and not very funny minutes, so that their quest — and, in effect, the action — gets under way about half-an-hour too late.
The movie finds a much better pace, as well as considerably more excitement, when the dwarves start to encounter threats on their travels — from trolls, giants, orcs, goblins and, of course, Gollum.
Andy Serkis again excels as the treacherous renegade hobbit, but even his famous scene underground with Bilbo has at least one riddle too many, so that it drags on repetitiously.
Martin Freeman makes a sympathetically humble hero out of Bilbo Baggins, an unadventurous hobbit plucked out of obscurity by Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen, excellent once again).
Bilbo’s job is to help a quest by 13 dwarves under their warrior-king Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) to win back their underground kingdom.
At first, Bilbo is reluctant to help out. ‘Adventures,’ he objects, ‘make you late for dinner.’
He is also less than enthused by the news that the villain of the piece is a dragon. As one of the dwarves tells him: ‘Think furnace . . . with wings.’
For his part, Thorin is suspicious of Bilbo’s warrior prowess. ‘What is your weapon of choice?’ asks the royal dwarf. Bilbo considers, before answering: ‘I have some skill at conkers.’
Welcome back: Sir Ian McKellen returns as a slightly younger Gandalf in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In the film, Bilbo's job is to help 13 dwarves win back their underground kingdom
Follow the leader: The group is led by Thorn played by Richard Armitage who has the necessary gravitas to make the audience care about his quest
The ensuing quest is a simple procession of dangers and surprises in the original novel, but Jackson and his co-writers have filled out the tale with back-story elements that vary in quality and interest.
The early flashbacks to how the dwarves lost control of their kingdom and Thorin earned the name of Oakenshield are splendid.
However, other flashbacks to how Gandalf’s eccentric fellow wizard Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) discovers why the creatures in his forest are dying are less confidently handled. We are left uncertain as to why a very subsidiary character is taking up so much screen time.
While it’s good to see characters such as Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee) again, they don’t have enough to do. They simply add to the sense of deja vu.
Pacing this slow also gives us rather too much time to ponder why Gandalf doesn’t use his magical powers a lot earlier than he does, and why if eagles are willing to fly to the rescue of the journeying expedition, they don’t drop them off nearer the Lonely Mountain that is their destination.
New Zealand director Peter Jackson, pictured emerging from a 'Hobbit Hole' has tried to emulate the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy
Time will tell if the dwarves develop interestingly as characters. So far, only Ken Stott and James Nesbitt have made much of an impact as distinct personalities, though Armitage has the gravitas to make us care about Thorin’s quest.
The great saving elements are Jackson’s flair for epic landscape and the marvellous production values. New Zealand has never looked more impressive and, like its predecessors, The Hobbit will do wonders for its tourist trade.
With all its shortcomings, the best aspects of The Hobbit are classier than in most special-effects blockbusters.
Slavering wargs, the grotesquely fat goblin king voiced by Barry Humphries and the one-armed orc warrior determined to avenge himself on Thorin for his missing limb were particular favourites of mine. These are special-effects at their most creative, and they mesh seamlessly and intricately with the live action.
There’s no denying that the film is a huge technical achievement, and that the action set pieces are, at times, astonishing. I just wish it was more emotionally engaging, and had a lot more story-telling momentum. There’s a welcome hint of depth right at the end as Bilbo gains an understanding of why the dwarves are willing to sacrifice their lives in pursuit of a homeland.
Perhaps the other two sections of the trilogy will take off pacewise and pack more of an emotional punch.
Let’s hope so.
Labels: 2012 exposed