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An Unexpected Disappointment
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (DVD)
Member Name: SWSt
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (DVD)
Advantages: Some strong performances, excellent music
Disadvantages: Bloated and self-indulgent, lacking innovation, 48FPS makes everything look artificial
Well, on the evidence of part one of the trilogy - An Unexpected Journey - it's perhaps not quite that clear cut and the crucial word in that sentence is "safe". Unlike Lord of the Rings, which revolutionised some aspects of film-making, The Hobbit lacks any real innovation. You do wonder whether actually the baton might have been better being passed to someone new; someone who could bring new ideas and not just stick to tried and tested ways bring in fresh ideas. As it is, The Hobbit lacks the same sense of passion and newness of The Lord of the Rings. It's nine years since the last Rings films. The world of cinema has moved on. Peter Jackson, it seemed, has not.
The one innovation that has been employed is not particularly successful. Jackson's decision to film at 48 frames per second (rather than the usual 24) has divided critics, and I'm afraid that I stand on the negative side of that divide. Rather than enhancing the look of the film, it actually spoils it. Yes, the images are crisper and sharper, but it also feels like you are watching a live TV episode of something rather than a film and it actually negatively impacts on the world Jackson so successfully created in Lord of the Rings. Even though it was filmed in New Zealand, just like the original, it actually looks very set bound at timesThe 48 frames per second rate really does the film no favours and robs it of the epic scope and feel that characterised its "brothers".
The decision to stretch the film out to another trilogy also backfires with An Unexpected Journey (which clocks in at just under 3 hours) feeling very bloated and stretched. New sequences have been inserted, whilst some have been extended beyond the scope of the original book. It's not all bad news, since some of these new segments do work. The Council between Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman at Rivendell, for example adds to the overall story arc: it feels like a natural part of the plot for the Hobbit, but also foreshadows and further explains some of the events in Rings. Elsewhere, it is little short of disastrous. A dull and ridiculous sub-plot featuring fellow wizard Radagast The Brown, for example, adds nothing and feels like filler, slowing the plot down and frustrating the viewer.
There are also points where The Hobbit feels rather self-indulgent. As Mrs SWSt astutely observed, segments of it feel like Peter Jackson is simply re-staging his favourite bits from Lord of the Rings trilogy, only in 3D. Thus, the scenes in the Goblin kingdom are essentially the battle in Moria restaged; the rescue of the Eagles recalls the ending of The Return of the King. It's not that there's necessarily anything bad about this, it just adds to the whole feeling that there's nothing new here that you haven't seen before.
It's not all bad news, though; and whilst The Hobbit might be disappointing (and leave you fearing for the two films to come), it's not a dead loss. Amidst the bloat and self-indulgence, there are some excellent sequences. Particularly in the early stages (the party at Bilbo's house), Jackson once again recaptures the tone and style of Tolkien's book perfectly, bringing locations and characters to life. And whilst casting might not be quite so flawless as the earlier films, it gets more right than it does wrong.
The large company of actors does a good job on the whole. You would expect that from the returning cast (Ian McKellan etc.), but they keep their performances up to the standard of their previous ones and are not tempted to phone it in. There is a sense that some of the returning faces are being shoehorned in so that Jackson can get the old gang all back together again (Ian Holm and Elijah Wood's re-appearances are particularly forced), but it's not as bad as I feared.
Amongst the newcomers, Martin Freeman is acceptable as Bilbo, but not in the same ball park as Ian Holm. As you might expect, Freeman excels in the sequences where he is required to look bewildered, but struggles to convince in the more action-oriented sequences. Still, like other aspects of the film, he's not as bad as I feared he might be.
Amongst the dwarf cast, Richard Armitage is excellent as Thorin Oakenshield. Proud and arrogant, he nevertheless manages to maintain a sense of dignity and bravery that makes it possible to like him. Ken Stott is similarly dignified as Balin and actually feels a far better developed character than he did in the book. Inevitably, some of the dwarfs get a bit lost in the mass of small bodies on screen, although when given the opportunity Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner do well as Fili and Kili respectively. There were certainly none that made you grit your teeth and I can certainly see myself enjoying more time in their company over the next couple of years as the sequels come out.
The high point, of course, comes from Andy Serkis' Gollum. But then you already knew that. Once again, though, it does leave you fearing a big hole in the remaining two films since (assuming Jackson follows the book faithfully), that's Gollum's part done
Howard Shore's music score is also superb. Whilst it might not ever quite hit the heights of some of the Lord of the Rings tunes, it is still excellent. Once again making use of the Celtic inspiration behind much of the Rings music, it is perfectly suited to the gentile nature of The Shire. Equally, when called on to do more stirring tunes, Shore effortlessly turns out militaristic pieces to accompany the battle sequences. Like so much else in the rest of the film, it no longer feels as innovative as it did, but it does sound good.
Reviewing on Dooyoo sometimes makes me feel like Scrooge at a children's party. Professional reviewers have been salivating overThe Hobbit and awarding four or five stars across the board, and I'm sure many of my fellow Dooyoo-ers will do the same. I can only call it as I see it and whilst there is plenty to like about The Hobbit, it is also over-long, self-indulgent and a little safe and stale feeling. A change of director, or reining in the existing one a little would probably have benefitted the film no end.
The most telling thing is this: whilst I certainly will go and see the next two films, I don't have that same sense of restless anticipation that I had when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring and couldn't believe I had to wait a full 12 months for the next instalment.
The Hobbit: an unexpected journey
Director: Peter Jackson
Running time: approx. 169 minutes
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012
Summary: Perhaps inevitably it fails to live up to its predecessors