Director: Peter Jackson. NewLine/Wingnut/MGM/3Foot7. (12A)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner.
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro.
Camera: Andrew Lesnie.
Music: Howard Shore.
Sets: Dan Hennah.
Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Kiran Shah, Benedict Cumberbatch.
60 years before his nephew joined another fellowship, to destroy a magical ring that has the power to enslave all of Middle Earth, unassuming Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) lives a comfortable, sheltered life in the beloved Shires. That is until the wizard Gandalf (McKellan) and a group of raucous dwarves (led by Armitage) show up on his doorstep. Bilbo is taken out of his comfort zone on an adventure to recapture the Dwarve’s fabled home city, taken years earlier by a ferocious dragon, encountering dangerous creatures and finding he has unexpected depths along the way.
Peter Jackson is a man who knows how to make big movies. Very big. Colossal in fact. And if he throws caution to the wind in terms of economy of scale, well good on him and so be it. What he is in dire need of however is a stopwatch. And a gutsier editor.
The combined length of his Lord of the Rings trilogy weighed in at around an arse-numbing nine hours (and that’s the slimmed down theatrical releases – there were extended versions released on DVD), King Kong concluded only after a rather unnecessary three hours plus. It is probably no surprise that he filmed so much footage for this adaptation of the first and singular novel in Tolkein’s Middle Earth series that it was easier to release it as another trilogy.
It also makes good box office sense; these films are expensive to make so two extra films means more box office ‘kerching’. It has also lead to an accumulation of rather a lot of protracted, repetitious, disposable events, scenes and moments in a film that runs to two hours 49 minutes in its original movie theatre version. The opening preamble, for instance, with the older Bilbo (Holm) and Frodo (Wood) seems tacked on to help audiences familiarise themselves with the first book being adapted last. Given the mighty publicity machine deployed though, the value of this scene is questionable.
One can’t help but imagine how much cheaper these film’s would be, if Jackson shaved half an hour off each one during the development stage.
Perhaps this feeling is wholly a question of taste at the end of the day; with nearly a $billion in gross takings for this first instalment as of Jan 2013, who am I to judge? But judge I will when I feel a creeping sense of the familiar and duplicated throughout.
I freely admit to not having read any of Tolkein’s much admired books. Perhaps I lack perspective on certain things, but as a film viewer and reviewer, it didn’t aid my enjoyment to come across settings already visited (the Dwarf city of Moria, where Gandalf was ‘killed’ in the first Rings film) and situations that smack of the ‘been there, seen it’ (the eagles who fly to the rescue, as in the second Rings film). This ‘samey’ feel probably explains why the London Evening Standard thought this was a ‘fair to middling return to Middle Earth’.
The set-pieces and special effects are, of course, magnificently realised. In terms of head-swirling spectacle, The Hobbit delivers in spades. 3D is used exceptionally well in many sequences, but if any film genre was made to be told in an extra dimension it is this. But this is par for the course; we know Jackson and his too-numerous-to-mention-individually technical team can deliver the goods here. He really needed a different tack to make this new trilogy stand out from it’s forbears.
The musical sequences are cute but a step in the wrong direction; are we heading into Cameron MacIntosh territory? Surely we want something other than Les Middle-arables. Could it be emotional intimacy in amongst the CGI? Are we hankering for less people but better character development?
Freeman is saddled with much of the dramatic weight of the film as his character is the main person who will progress and mature, but he is mostly sidelined until the film kicks into life (thank heavens we leave the Shire behind us). It will be interesting to see how far he pushes the next two films.
There are welcome returners in the cast, dotted amongst the newbies – Blanchett and Weaving as almost hypnotic Elvish leaders, Lee shows the beginnings of his turning to the dark side, Serkis is still unrecognisable as the dissociative Gollum. Of those new cast members who score strongest (or loudest at least), Nesbitt is Dwarf Bofur, Stott is older Dwarf Balin and former Dr Who McCoy makes a surprise cameo as a far too eco-friendly wizard (let’s just say it is no surprise he is known as ‘The Brown’). The dwarves help make sure that the comedy moments (such as when they are BBQ’d by two hungry trolls) carry the film along during the longuers. It’s a shame, then, that these are few and far between. Let’s hope that, as with the first part of Lord of the Rings, things pick up nicely after this lumbering character introduction.