Story: 13 dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) set out on a quest to reclaim the mountain under which they lived (and the gold in it) from the dragon Smaug. The wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) insists that the hobbit Bilbo Bagins (Martin Freeman) joins them. Bilbo is not directly that keen for an adventure, but joins the dwarves nonetheless. Meanwhile, dark powers seem to awaken in Middle Earth.
The Hobbit did nothing but confirm to me that, when it concerns everything Tolkien, I am right and the rest of the world is wrong. I’ve made this argument several times, so in this review I will not mention the plodding storytelling, the painfully dull and slow dialogues and the bloated self-importance that characterized the Lord of the Rings movies and also this new franchise outing. Nor will I go on and on about the fetishistic, alsmost fascist escapism these fantasy epics offer to the deluded masses.
So let’s get past all that and discuss elements of The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey in their own light.
First of all, I must say that I disliked it less than I did The Return of the King. Most important is that The Hobbit has a lighter tone. The book on which it is based is a children’s book, and that is clear from the film adaptation as well. Even though this is clearly a 12+ film (don’t bring little children!) The story is still a bit too serious for my tastes – I do not think that any film featuring dwarves, elves, ‘wargs’ and albino orcs should take itself serious at all – but there is definitely a move in the right direction.
Of course the film looks gorgeous again. This is the one quality of the LOTR films that I recognize as well. Unfortunately, due to the 3D and the 48fps technology (by which the number of still images you see in one second of film is doubled) the sets and even the gorgeous natural backdrops have a slightly artificial shine on them. Also, whenever there are quick movements in the frame or sweeping camera moves it seems as if the film is projected too fast.
Actually, that might have been an idea! For with 2 hours and 45 minutes The Hobbit is much, much too long. Entire sequences could easily have been scrapped. Especially in the painfully dragging first hour-and-a-half. Only in the action-packed last hour the film picks up pace. Crucially, this is also the hour in which the single outstanding scene takes place: the fateful meeting between Bilbo and the creature Gollem (Andy Serkis).
With Bilbo we arrive on a plus for The Hobbit. Martin Freeman is one of my favourite television and film actors, and his Bilbo Bagins is a nice bloke. Much more so than Elijah Wood’s Frodo (who makes an entirely unnecessary cameo appearance together with Ian Holm). I actually like watching Bilbo doing stuff. Whatever that stuff might be.
The dwarves are with too many. Even Gandalf, on several moments in the film, has to count to find out whether or not they are all still there. They could have had slightly more outspoken and specific characters as well. Onle Armitage’s Thorin and Ken Stott’s Balin stand out. The others are nothing but ‘the fat one’ or ‘the young one’.
Finally (BIG SPOILER): it is entirely impossible to put a group of fifteen characters through so many perils and come out on the other hand without a single casualty. What is the point of having thousands of goblins attacking our company if they can simply be pushed from a bridge?
Final verdict: Jackson’s Tolkien movies will never win me over. I’ll just have to get used to the fact that they do enchant most of the global audience nonetheless. The Hobbit – An Unexpected Journey does nothing to change that. It has its pluses and its minuses, but in the end it leaves me entirely cold. The only good thing is that it will make a global super star out of Martin Freeman.