18 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

(Dir: Peter Jackson, 2012)

It’s fair to say there are a lot expectations riding on The Hobbit. Not only is it the first film to utilise a new tech (find out more here), it’s following in the footsteps of one of the most highly revered trilogies of all time. The Lord of the Rings films were actually successful in taking an epic story and wrapping it into three interesting and lengthy films. Having not seen these films since Return of the King was released at the cinema, I recently took the time to rewatch all three extended editions as a preparation of sorts for The Hobbit, and I was left more impressed than I expected to be (my memory of them was evidently diminishing). I thought they benefited from the expansion of their world afforded by the extended editions, making me realise how rich in depth they are. I may not rate them as highly as some do, but the approach was seemingly right.

So it would seem logical to apply this approach to The Hobbit. Yet there has been a lot of disconcertion about the plans to split the film into three parts, not least because of the slightness of the book and how thinly this may spread the films. Alas it seems these fears are justified. The biggest single issue with this first part of the The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, is that it is just too long and far too languid. Clocking in at over two and a half hours, it could’ve done with a good forty five minutes or so chopping as it takes far too long to get going nowhere. Not much actually seems to happen in this passage of time and it feels like it’s trying to build up for an epic story, but then when the plot is revealed (the dwarves need help reclaiming what’s theirs essentially) it feels so insubstantial.

This film is always going to be compared to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it's impossible not too when the same characters and locations are involved, but I’m sure if The Hobbit had come out first then it wouldn’t seem so, lacking. The Lord of the Rings feels so weighty in comparison, with an impending sense of doom providing a real narrative drive towards defeating an insidious enemy. Alongside this there are a wide range of varied and interesting characters with multiple subplots and relationships striating the trilogy. And of course there's Frodo with the literal weight of the world on his shoulders. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lacks all of that. Martin Freeman is decent as Bilbo but none of the dwarves are interesting or even really developed. Hell, Gandalf is far less interesting here too. The enemy appears to be Smaug, but we're not given any cause to be overly worried and his presence is barely felt in this first installment. Honestly, the whole film just feels too twee and simplistic - neither of which is a positive.

That said, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey isn’t a bad film and it was a pleasant enough experience escaping back into this world. It’s just when there's something of such high quality looming over it, the comparisons are inevitable and the very evident shortcomings are magnified. Of course this is somewhat the fault of the book, but it would be less of an issue if the filmmakers hadn't decided that the film version should attempt to expand on this. The set-up for the second film suggests potentially more interesting things to come (reading the book when I was about ten means I don’t remember the story whatsoever), but let’s hope Peter Jackson is more judicious with the editing next time round. Obviously these thoughts are based on seeing only a part of the film, so perhaps in the context of the whole my opinion might change. We'll see.

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