Sunday, 23 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Martin Freeman's Bilbo is too often left to
the sidelines, but captivates when he is
the focus.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - 2012, Directed by Peter Jackson
Written between 22nd and 23rd December

Of all of cinema's themes, the most abstract yet ubiquitous is that of adventure. As children we are told that our lives are driven by the quest to leave the familiar and go off on daring deeds in places far and wide. In adulthood, the spirit of adventure is somewhat lost to us, and becomes an ironic statement on the mundane - adventurous spirit drives us to pick the slightly more expensive, sun-flower seeded bagel over the standard plain, drives us to take a turn onto the A-Road through the hills rather than sit in traffic on the M6. Still, it lies at the heart of many a tale, especially the prelude to Tolkein's Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit.
     In its most recent publication, The Hobbit is not a long book; it is a breezy 80 pages long and contains a fair story that explores the early adventures of Bilbo Baggins and explains how the One Ring came to be in his possession. Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy from the early Noughties, is not a man satisfied with brevity. Through some divine intervention, this 80-page story is extended into a very, very long three hours of some astounding special effects, sorta ok acting and writing that seems to make the actors do all of the work when it comes to characterisation.
     The Hobbit is a strange film in that while much can be said to happen, very little feels as if it is happening. Usually is film is broken up into large action setpieces and quieter moments of acting and exposition, and while it was true here neither really lived up to their purpose, with the quiet scenes hardly used for anything other than grand prophesising and telling ancient tales, and action scenes often being unnecessarily long. The nadir is probably a scene around the two-hour mark where a walk through the mountains is interrupted by the mountains coming alive and beginning to fight one another.
     Effectively, the film manages to expand its source material pretty much to breaking point, leaving out very little of the book and yet leaving the viewer with a strange sense that very little has actually been accomplished. The Lonely Mountain is still so far away at the end of the three hours, and yet most of the plot from the book is done with. Frankly, I fail to see exactly what they have left that they can fill six entire hours with, when even this was padded to the gills with what felt irrelevant flashbacks and random songs cramping up the place.
     Notable beyond the main performances were those of a few minor characters. Richard Armitage's Thorin was a bit one-note here or there, but he did give off a commanding presence as the Dwarven leader. Sylvester McCoy, who we know as the Seventh Doctor, gave a rather wonderful turn as Radagast the Brown, a delightfully mad wizard harnessing the powers of nature. And, of course, Martin Freeman continues his long string of successes after Sherlock with a performance that, while not particularly bold or immediately fascinating, is for the most part captivating.
    Oh, and Gollum. Andy Serkis is always someone I've had a great deal of respect for, especially in 2011 where he followed up a brilliant episode of Accused (where he played a creepy taxi-driver) with his Oscar-worthy mo-cap performance as Ceasar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. He returns to the role of Gollum after a nine-year gap, and the megalomania with which he imbues the role is absolutely brilliant - I was beginning to get tired in the cinema at this point, and Gollum's appearance at the 2 1/2 hour mark perked me right back up again.
     I suppose the main problem with The Hobbit was just that it made me feel tired more than anything else. In its deepest essence it is a kid's film, with very simple characterisations and a plot that is about a group of people going from one place to another and having encounters along the way. While that's by no means a bad thing, I just don't think that there was anything here to justify the run-time, and that is one of the biggest crimes in cinema. I didn't feel motivated, I didn't really want to find out what happened next beyond getting out of the tedium of the current scene and onto something that was at least slightly different. It contains some of the most beautiful special effects shots that I've ever seen in cinema. But visuals alone do not a good film make. And that was the The Hobbit's biggest downfall.


1 comment:

  1. Good review Andrew. The level of quality is beyond anything else I have seen all year and in a very long time. The wonder, action, storytelling and fantasy are just too beautiful to scathe or cast down upon.