Saturday, 5 January 2013

#9: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, An Unsurprising Success

When Peter Jackson announced he was splitting the prequel to his cinematic masterpiece Lord of the Rings in to three parts instead of the initially planned two, it divided fans and critics alike. As it turns out this was probably a good thing on his part. The film still clocks in at just under three hours, which at first seemed a little excessive given the slow paced first hour. This, however, changes as Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf and a party of dwarves finally embark on their journey to the Lonely Mountain.

Those of you who read the book as a child like I did will be pleased to know that the film starts with the exact same narration as the novel, something screenwriter Phillipa Boyens continues throughout the movie to an excellent degree. This allows the transition from page to screen to be a smooth one. Utilising many of the same production staff as he did in Lord of the Rings was an obvious decision given it's success and the same cinematic sparkle that garnered said success is unsurprisingly present within The Hobbit. One of the main reasons for this sparkle is the cinematography. The rolling landscapes of New Zealand are completely transformed in to the plains of Middle-Earth which is a juxtaposed brilliantly with the almost British appearance of Hobbiton, (in fact filmed in Matamata, Waikato) and gives the film a real sense of movement as the narrative progresses.

People familiar with Tolkien lore as a whole will be surprised to see the inclusion of brown wizard Radagast and a scene involving The Necromancer. Despite both these characters being mentioned in the novel neither play as prominent a part as they do in the film. While this might annoy die-hard Tolkien fans, it certainly explains the two hour fifty runtime and could explain Jackson's decision to split the film in to three parts, providing he plans to bring some non-novel material in to parts two and three. A further plus to the inclusion of material not found within the novel is the potential to expand the horizons of fans who want dig a little deeper in to the Middle-Earth mythos and will perhaps go on to pick up The Simarillion, a collection of stories and histories outside of the main narrative.

Martin Freeman's portrayal of Bilbo is a refreshing change from the broody, non-acting of Elijah Wood throughout Lord of the Rings. Bringing a comedic element to the table might well alienate people, however those people would do well to remember the original novel was written for Tolkien's children, and the film does cater for a younger audience than it's predecessors. That aside though there are plenty of elements that will appeal to those who revel in battle sequences, particularly the lengthy scene in the depths of the misty mountains, involving the goblin king (voiced by Dame Edna Everage of all people, which is somewhat fitting). Other stand out moments within the film are unsurprisingly the most memorable moments from the book too. The fight between the ice giants about halfway through the film was something I had forgotten and was done brilliantly. The meeting with the trolls early on is particularly enjoyable and brought back waves of nostalgia from my pre-teen days. The almost-human nature of them was a surprise given that I was expecting them to be as inhumane as the orcs. Speaking of which, the Orcs also play a surprisingly prominent role within the film, surprising since the main antagonists of the book were the goblins of the Misty Mountains, however it was an understandable inclusion for those whose only experience of Tolkien are the previous films and needed something to hark back too.

One of the most important scenes within the narrative is Bilbo's discovery of the ring once he becomes separated from his companions. Gollum is fantastic as usual, and those who have seen The Two Towers will enjoy a reworking of his fish-catching song. The pathos created by his schizophrenia is something previously unachieved despite being touched on before, and a real sense of pity is established as he struggles with his greed for 'the precious' and his longing for interaction with others.

As a whole the film is unsurprisingly loyal to Tolkien's works apart from the already mentioned extras, which is something long-time fans will be happy with. Even the viewers in the cinema couldn't really detract from the overall film (despite inspiring my previous blog post) and I would happily go and watch the film again. Given that this film is only the first part of a trilogy it sets the bar extremely high for the next two films (December 2013, July 2014 respectively). If Jackson carries on with the high standard in his next two forays in to Middle-Earth we can expect a trilogy to rival, if not surpass, that he has already created. If you haven't already seen this film (what are the chances of that?) Go and see it, now.