Bilbo and the Dwarves. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.
Bilbo and the Dwarves. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Dir. Peter Jackson

8.5/10

Now, I don’t have the most neutral perspective when it comes to The Hobbit, the new epic fantasy trilogy from Peter Jackson. Tolkien’s 1937 novel is and will always be one of the all-time great works of fantasy for me, and after the fantastic Lord of the Rings trilogy, disliking it was never an option. However, I can safely say that if you don’t like The Hobbit, then perhaps you weren’t meant to. Here’s why.

The length is uncompromising. Having been initially sceptical of the switch from six-hour duology to nine-hour trilogy, I’m now convinced it was the right move. The book itself can’t fill that runtime, but with the addition of what was implied and off-page in the novel, Jackson gets to do what he does best: beautiful, immensely enjoyable padding. Nearly every scene from the novel makes it in, including the songs, the Cockney trolls, the Stone Giants, even the anecdote about the invention of golf – and that tells you who this film is for.

It’s not for the people who watched Lord of the Rings without reading the books, or for the people who expect the films to compromise for the uninitiated: Jackson now has licence to make a film just for the fans. Some may complain about ‘slow pacing’ and the length; but fans will be grateful for every sweeping, achingly beautiful landscape shot, every direct quote in the dialogue – in fact, for every minute of screen-time. It’s unabashedly an adaptation which happens to be a film rather than a film which happens to be an adaptation, so perhaps detractors feel aggrieved at being sidelined in favour of the fans. To hell with them. The Hobbit is ours, and they can’t have it.

This isn’t to say the film is flawless: it relies too heavily on CGI where miniatures, sets and make-up might have done a better job, and once again the 3D serves just to muddy the picture and adds little (is it so alien a concept to make it brighter to offset this?), though St Andrews does not have the divisive 48 FPS version, which some say ameliorates the issue. I might have preferred original director Guillermo del Toro’s version, which was apparently to feature more physical effects, but the CGI is only a quibble.

Gollum returns. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.
Gollum returns. Picture courtesy of Warner Bros.

Jackson is probably the ideal director for Tolkien’s material, though: like the writer himself, his pacing and dialogue are questionable, but his visuals rival Tolkien’s prose for majestic, indulgent richness; as does the familiar score, which is functionally a Greatest Hits of the previous trilogy with a handful of stirring new leitmotifs guaranteed to stick in the head. The pitch-perfect cast brings sometimes stilted dialogue to life, with Barry Humphries’ grandiloquent Goblin King and Sylvester McCoy’s flaky Radagast stealing the show. In Bilbo, Martin Freeman chalks up another character that, like Dr Watson and Arthur Dent, he was born to play; and Richard Armitage broods expertly as Thorin. Some of the dwarves are under used and caricatured – Bombur is literally a walking fat joke – but with twelve of them, it’s forgivable, and the important ones are spot-on.

However, this is also not a film for ultra-purists; it invents and shuffles and fleshes out various events, and if you’re the kind of person outraged that Shelob was in Return rather than Two Towers, you’ll be as angry as ever. If you’re the kind of person who insists on pragmatic, cinema-conscious adaptations, you’ll be frustrated. If you’ve only seen Lord of the Rings and expect more of the same, the more whimsical tone might throw you. But if you’re the kind of person who dearly loves Tolkien’s works already and wants to see as much of it brought to life as possible, then rejoice: it’s the cinematic Second Coming.

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