From one book to three separate features, Peter Jackson’s transformation of the classic Tolkien children’s novel has been a labour of love indeed for the LOTR director. The argument that will rage after viewing it on the big screen is just how necessary was it to create three films – regardless of how great the footage shot in New Zealand was? For some, this will only draw out the thrill of seeing this cinematic saga to eventual completion and a chance to revisit Middle Earth twice again; for others, it will just be ‘drawn out’ and a little tedious. Actually, watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels like hanging onto a pendulum wearing 3D glasses, swinging between both view points.
When it eventually gets going after an overly long introduction instigated by wise but wacky wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to our little, big-footed hero, The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and a bunch of fighting dwarves in the Shire, on the one hand, The Hobbit offers some thrilling animated rides in a new 48 frames per second format that does work effectively in 3D. On the other, this new format in quieter moments – such as said elongated first encounter at the Baggins residence – does have a sickly, waxy effect, visually, almost removing the fantasy element and making it much like a ‘made for TV’ production.
Fans will either love or hate the artistic licence with which Jackson has approached his story: introducing Galadriel (reprised by Cate Blanchett once more) to The Hobbit plot seems more like a whim of Jackson’s, rather than adding any real value added to the tale, and creating an excuse to add a bit of serene beauty to the fore – unless the following Jackson tales have bigger storytelling plans to follow? These scenes merely emphasise the padding that has been applied to inflate the magic longer. However, true to the episodic nature of book and its introduction of a new creature in each chapter, the Jackson story is as exciting to witness unfold as to what’s around the corner as in the literature – if only to add to Bilbo growing in stature and strength of character.
One such scene that does credit to the book is the infamous Riddles Game sequence between Bilbo and the wretched, translucent-skinned creature Gollum. This oozes with sinister intent and razor-sharp wit, with the colouring of the surrounding watery caves is a wonder to behold. Andy Serkis – who also helped direct these films – is a joy to watch voicing Gollum and bringing him to life once more, while filling out the start of the backstory about him and ‘his precious’ Ring.
The climatic end encounter with the gruesome Orcs and the wild wolves, the wargs, where Bilbo becomes a fully fledged hero in defence of injured Thorin (Richard Armitage) is Jackson at his visionary best, in design, 3D camera-angles and imagination. Sadly, the aftermath of their soaring salvation by the eagles feels like a letdown in comparison. Still, it sows the seeds for further adventure, regardless of altering the novel’s ending to this means.
The Hobbit is just shy of three hours – for those who can’t get enough of the fantasy world and its creatures, it will be a sumptuous ride in a newly experimented format. For others less enthralled by Tolkien, it could prove an obstacle in venturing out to watch the further two films – to the detriment of the impact of the original tale and its fascinating world of characters and vistas.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie