In one of the most anticipated movie experiences of the year, fans of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy can rejoice as the fourth film in the series makes its way onto our screens. As a huge admirer of the originals, I was sure I was going to be disappointed. Could this latest installment possibly stack up?
Set initially just before and subsequently much further before the timeline established in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Hobbit’s Unexpected Journey serves as a flashback-cum-prequel of and to the films we already know and love. It tells the story of Bilbo Bag-end (Ian Holm), uncle of the famous Frodo (Elijah Wood), who recounts his exploits of old. Played as a younger man by Martin Freeman (Martin Freeman, from the British remake of The Office), Bilbo is a meek and unadventurous Hobbit who lives happily in the idyllic Theshire. This idyll however is soon shattered by the arrival of Gandhalf the Gray, a wise and powerful wizard.
Gandhalf wants to recruit Bilbo into his group of Dwarves. (Note: While this outdated and offensive term is no longer used in the present day, you must understand that this story is based on a book that was originally written in the 1930s. No offense to little persons is intended on the part of this reviewer.) We find out that many years ago, the Dwarves (see previous note) lived in the great subterranean mountain Kingdom of Erebore, a glittering palace of gold and jewels and unimaginable riches. Then one day a fearsome dragon attacked their home, and the Dwarves were driven from their Kingdom. Now they intend to retake their homeland, by force if necessary, and they need Bilbo’s help. It seems that as a Hobbit, he is smaller, lighter and quieter than most people, so he can sneak into the mountain and steal the keys without being detected.
There’s just one problem: Bilbo doesn’t want to go. He is perfectly happy in Theshire, and doesn’t seek any sort of adventure. He particularly doesn’t appreciate a gang of rowdy Dwarves turning up on his door step and eating him out of house and home. For reasons that are never made clear, he relents and decides to join them. What follows is a rip-roaring adventure, full of trolls, goblins, rabbits and other fantasy creatures.
As I said previously, I’m a huge fan of the original series, so naturally I was very skeptical about the return to the Middle Earth. We all remember the travesty of the Star Wars prequels, or the Matrix sequels, or Godfather Part 3, or some of the later Police Academy movies. Some people are worried that this just might be a cynical cash-grab, but I have faith in the good intentions of Peter Jackson and his co-director Guillermo Del Toro (most famous for the critically acclaimed but little seen Pan’s Labyrinth, not to be confused with the Jim Henson movie of the same name). With two maestros like that at the helm, you can be guaranteed that you’re in safe hands.
The cast are uniformly excellent. I thought the late Ian Holm was a perfect Bilbo, but for obvious reasons the part had to be recast. Thankfully the aforementioned Martin Freeman is a top class second choice. Sadly this creates a continuity error in The First Lord of the Rings Film, when we see a flashback to Bilbo from the time of this film, played by Holm, and not Freeman. Hopefully they’ll reshoot that particular scene with Freeman and digitally insert him into future releases of The Lord of the Rings. Ian McEllen returns as Gandhalf, and he hasn’t aged a day. Sadly the same cannot be said for Dracula star Christopher Lee, who was too ill to travel to New Zea Land to take part in the film, and had to record his scenes via satellite. Other cast members from The Lord of the Rings return in this film (Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Gollum), but I won’t mention them as I don’t want to spoil the surprise for first time viewers.
You may have heard about the controversy regarding the High Frame Rate. For those of you who don’t understand, don’t worry: it’s a technical detail that very few people can grasp, so it’s really not worth knowing about. The basics of the process is related to 3D. Because you need two eyes to watch a 3D movie, you therefore need twice as many frames, one for each eye. This is why The Hobbit’s Unexpected Journey had double the frames of a normal movie. That’s all there is to it. Some people have complained that it makes the Bag-end household look like a set. Well, “duh”! It is a set, so what do you expect? I think some people just like to complain for the sake of complaining.
All in all, The Hobbit isn’t quite as good as The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but few movies are. The plot is quite confusing, and it took me three viewings before I really understood everything that was going on, and I’m usually very good at getting movies. That’s not necessarily a criticism though, as long as you’re one of those movie-goers who doesn’t need to be spoonfed every little detail. Overall, I would recommend it, except for very small children who might be scared by some of the Dwarves and their scary beards.
Hi everyone. It’s time to introduce myself.
I’m Dave Bazunski; Freelance Artist, Critic, Cultural Commentator, Media Guru, Blogger, and everyone else in between. I’m originally from Brooklyn NY, but now I’m living in the thriving media hub of Hoxton, London.
Quite simply, movies are my main obsession. I’m one of those guys who likes his opinion to be heard, whether people like it or not. This is going to be a no-hold barred cinematic journey, and I hope you’ll join me.
Till next time, adios.