Watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with my family recently. Once the credits rolled my dad turned to me and said, ‘Is that it? What about the rest of the story?’ Upon hearing the film was going to be a trilogy and we’d have to wait to 2014 to see the lot, he wasn’t too pleased.
One film to rule them all
To the casual cinema goer, splitting Lord of the Rings into a trilogy made sense. It was three, distinct books. The Hobbit, however, is merely one slim book. So why three films? Well it was always going to be two, till Jackson realised how much material they had – it made sense to become three. Remember, it’s not just the one book, they’ve drawn from Tolkien’s other work, such as The Silmarillion.
Let’s assume that you’re familiar with the LOTR story. Think of The Hobbit as an origin tale. Bilbo passed the ring to Frodo in Rings – this is Bilbo’s tale of how he got his taste for adventure and originally acquired the ring. There’s more than enough going on for it to be three films without feeling padded out. Indeed, this first film moves along at a good pace.
If it loses, we eats it whole
In terms of actors and performances, this is first and foremost Martin Freeman’s film. In various interviews he’s remarked how it was strange to be congratulated for a film that people had yet to see. I think, perhaps, because everyone knew he’d be perfect.
Richard Armitage was well cast as Thorin Oakenshield, fulfilling the Aragorn-esque role as the strong, silent leader. The rest of the dwarves all fought for screen time, some better than others. Ken Stott as Balin, the white-bearded wise dwarf of the group, stood out. As for the others, no doubt they’ll get time to shine in the next two films. Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) was suitably unhinged and comical as the woodland wizard who plays a key role in the darker part of the story.
We also get most of the LOTR alumni reprising their roles: Elrond, Galadriel, Gandalf, Saruman, Bilbo senior, Frodo – and of course, Gollum. With two wizards and a hobbit, you’ve got three knights of the realm there. Talk about keeping the British end up!
Dark action Jackson
Considering Tolkien wrote The Hobbit primarily aimed at children, the film is pretty dark in places. Whilst you get rabbit-drawn sleds and cute, little hedgehogs, you also get fairly gory battles, bloodshed and tense moments. But then, where’s the danger and drama otherwise?
To his credit, Jackson has created a film that’s going to appeal to fans, but also those new to the Rings’ world, young and old. He’s also ensured the film fits into the LOTR universe seamlessly. Something Lucas didn’t manage too well with the modern Star Wars trilogy.
What is Bagginses?
There are some great scenes too, the introduction of the dwarves to Bilbo’s house is classic Jackson, right down to the song about the washing up. The company’s encounter with the trolls is well managed. The cave troll the fellowship fight in Rings just has to growl, here three trolls converse convincingly. The group’s encounter with the goblin king should appeal to younger cinema goers, although the goblin king doesn’t quite work for me and feels a little out of place, a little childish, even for kids.
Stand-out for the fans will undoubtedly be the ‘riddles in the dark’ sequence with Gollum. Subtle improvements have been made to Gollum in the ten years since Rings, all worth it. Andy Serkis, again, showing why he’s king of motion capture with a fantastic performance, bouncing off Freeman’s Bilbo. Each locked in a mental battle. Freeman brilliantly demonstrating his mettle as the perfect Bilbo – an unnatural hero, afraid but also courageous, quirky and comical.
Ultimately, it’s a great opener to this latest Middle Earth trilogy. The cast has bonded well, Jackson’s worked his magic again and – in Freeman – he’s found a brilliant Bilbo.