Thursday, 20 December 2012

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' Film Review

The Lord of the Rings trilogy created a whole new cinematic universe, inspired media culture and created some of the most iconic scenes in cinema, not to mention it won 17 Academy Awards and broke Box Office records, so when the idea came for them to make J.R.R Tolkien's prequel 'The Hobbit', who could say no?

Split into three films (originally two), each over two hours long, one might ask 'HOW?'- and the answer is that the film-makers decided to stretch it out to make more money. Not to worry, fans of the franchise will receive a lot of bonus side story, history and even more of Middle Earth, all adapted from Tolkien's works.

The movie opens with an old Bilbo Baggins writing his story about his adventures and recalling the ancient thriving Dwarven kingdom of Erebor, a city of gold, which was then taken siege by fire dragon Smaug, driving the dwarves into exile which is interrupted by Frodo (a pleasant cameo by Elijah Wood).

Whilst blowing smoke rings, Bilbo recalls the night his life changed forever. 

60 years ago, Gandalf (an aging Ian McKellen) the wizard pays a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) a visit and invites him on an adventure. With thirteen dwarves led by the descendant of the great dwarven king, Thorin (Richard Armitage), Bilbo leaves his comfy Shire and embarks on a life-threatening adventure of a lifetime. 

The pace of the movie was rather slow for the first hour (so much action packed content!) and recruiting Bilbo took forever, only slightly lifted by the humour of the dwarves. Calm before the storm moments happened regularly and was slightly dragged out, but once it picked up, it got good, real good.

At first you question all these side storylines and you wonder about their relevance to the plot, but be patient, for they will all be tied up at the end. They add much more depth to the story, which is otherwise rather linear. For those who just want a cinematic adventure getaway with no knowledge of LOTR or The Hobbit (you disgust me- just joking), this film is not for you. Well, you just won't enjoy it as much and would be wondering why everyone around you is raving on about this madness.

My friend (who saw the film last week) said to me that you really need to have read The Hobbit to get the most out of the movie and actually I might have to disagree. Since I last read it when I was maybe 12 or 14, I kept pondering if bits were from the book or not; how some of their 'escapes' were quite convenient etc and that distracted me greatly. Had I watched the film with none such knowledge, I might have absorbed it more.

The realm of the Lord of the Rings trilogy has been brought back as much as possible with the return of familiar orc, goblin and troll races, an introduction to the likeable wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) and familiar characters Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman (who is not so evil at this point).

One of my favourite scenes is the iconic 'Riddles with Gollum'. It was filled with humour, excitement and wit- the animation of Gollum was perfection and brings back one of the most memorably characters of all time for  this moment, which is definitely the highlight of the movie.

Middle Earth is as stunning as ever. The beautiful gold lined caves of Erebor to the beauty of Rivendell, contrasted against the dark gloomy orc mines and the mysterious Dol Guldur. This moves me on nicely to the visual effects and quality.

As you might have been aware, the movie was intentionally filmed at 48 frames per second compared to the standard 24 frames per second. This means double the amount of frames per second, which means double the information. So what effect does it have on the viewer? Great clarity, more 3D visuality. I saw this at the higher frame rate (both out of curiosity for the fuss as well as the fact that this was shown at the time I went to see it).

The verdict? Both good and bad. Firstly, the visual clarity was breathtaking. The opening scenes were so realistic, it was like I was actually there. The quill Bilbo used to write with, the wooden interior of his Hobbit-hole, the feathers of the eagles- a real feast for the eyes. This was no doubt the best 3D visuals I have seen in any live action movie. Yes Avatar was good, and it too created a whole new world, but no film showed realism quite like this.

The downside? Almost TOO real. When Smaug attacked Erebor at the beginning, the painted set pieces was more than obvious and these tiny things stick out like a sore thumb, rendering this beautiful fantasy world, dare I say it, fake. I felt like I was watching a high definition BBC documentary at times, or even worse some sort of BBC drama. As the first three films were made before the domination of 3D movies, there was a haziness, a non-clarity which gave the others a recognisable cinematic style, which is lost in this movie. 

That said, I'm an observant person and I pick these things out, but you'll probably not notice it at all- so don't avoid seeing it in this format just because of what I think!

As the movie reaches its climax (the most dramatic of which- yes, even beats the goblin escape sequence) and all the loose ends are tied, we reach a wonderfully executed finale, full of courage and tension, finishing on an upbeat moment of peace, appropriately leading us onto the next chapter, 'The Desolation of Smaug', which comes out next year in December, 2013.

Ian McKellen- Gandalf
Martin Freeman- Bilbo Baggins
Richard Armitage- Thorin
Andy Serkis- Gollum
Benedict Cumberbatch- Necromancer

Also stars Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Lee Pace and Christopher Lee.

The outstanding cast, led by returning thesp Ian McKellen and newcomer Martin Freeman was sublime. Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo Baggins, who plays the role with such flair, humour and character. If you've ever seen any of Freeman's acting before, he transforms the role and makes it his own.

It is always great to see familiar faces and Cate Blanchett is as ethereal as ever, shows sublime Elven grace and is just a pleasure to see return. 

Surprise surprise is the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch is actually Smaug/the Necromancer which I remember reading about but forgot when I watched the movie- will definitely be on my mind for the next one. Pushing Daisies and Twilight star Lee pace gets a cameo role as Elven King Thranduil, good to see he is getting bigger films even if it is for a cameo.

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' is a must see for fans of the franchise and those looking for a visual thrill- this movie was visually spectacular and stuffed full of extra side story and Middle Earth culture that it will blow your mind away. 

Compared to the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is inevitably not as 'epic' nor will it ever be, but it is a good attempt as making it as exciting as possible. This movie definitely adds value to the trilogy and gives you a greater glimpse into the world of Middle Earth.

With a beautiful world, a sublime cast and iconic sequences, this will certainly break records once again. To be honest, apart from 'Life of Pi', what else is there to see this Christmas anyway? 

1 comment:

  1. I love the Hobbit and was disappointed to see the changes. But I've gotten over them now and I can't wait for the other films. I loved it. I hate watching in 3D so I was spared that but even without, the visuals were incredible


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