Film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

15:46 10 December 2012

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Picture: Warner Bros. Pictures/MGM

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Picture: Warner Bros. Pictures/MGM

How much can you drag a children’s book out if you’re making it into a film? Quite a bit, if the first film in The Hobbit trilogy, An Unexpected Journey, is anything to go by.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Certificate: 12A

Runtime: 169 minutes

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Andy Serkis, Richard Armitage

Clocking in at just under three hours, An Unexpected Journey is a labour of love for director Peter Jackson and co, and a measure of love for its audience.

We begin with a brief history lesson about the glory days of the dwarf kingdom of Erebor, and see it sacked by a massive dragon, its people scattered - including the dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage).

We then join The Hobbit on the day The Fellowship of the Ring film starts - the day of Bilbo’s birthday. Ian Holm is back as Bilbo, with Elijah Wood as Frodo, for a brief appearance before we’re taken back in time to learn more about Thorin, and then brought back to Bilbo’s home for the introduction of the main story - Bilbo (now played as a young man by Martin Freeman) setting off on an adventure to help Gandalf (Ian McKellan), Thorin and a company of 12 other dwarves to reclaim Erebor.

And it’s here the action, sort of, begins. There’s a long, drawn-out introduction to all the dwarves, from the fat one to the wise one to the mischievous ones to the bitter one and so on. It’s a good 20 minutes, at least, before we finally get out of the shire and onto the road.

An Unexpected Journey is really just one long introduction to all the characters - by the time the film is finished I felt like I could write a 300-page biography for every character.

It may seem like An Unexpected Journey is short on action and long on exposition, but nothing could be further from the truth. I lost count of the amount of big set piece battle and action scenes and could have done without a fight or two (or seven), as those earlier on the film dimmed the impact of the two major ones at the end.

That is perhaps why I found Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum/Smeagol (Andy Serkis) scarier and more tense than the battle scene running parallel to it. Serkis is stunning as Gollum/Smeagol. He’s creepy, and tragic, and I found myself genuinely scared by what he was going to do. Freeman as Bilbo all the way through the film is the perfect mix of scared and gung ho, but in his scenes with Gollum/Smeagol takes it to a whole new level. Their encounter made up the best scenes in the film by a mile.

The Hobbit is full of beautiful shots of sweeping landscapes, but these are often unnecessary to the tale. They do show the work of a great CGI team and the fantastic locations of New Zealand, but they’re not quite as magical as they were when we saw them in the Lord of the Rings films.

That magic is what is missing in The Hobbit. The film largely served as a reminder that Tolkein’s world can all too easily be rendered badly on screen. Here’s hoping the magic from the Lord of the Rings films returns for the next two movies in The Hobbit trilogy.

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