Did I like it? Of course I liked it! What a stupid question.
I am a fan, both of Jackson (Lord of the Rings, King Kong) and JRR Tolkien’s source books. I’ve sat through the extended editions and the DVD extras; I even read The Silmarillion. But The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not without issue for me.
Yes, it is beautiful, detailed, a dedicated labour of love by Jackson, Walsh, Boyens, Weta Digital and the entire population of New Zealand. It’s also twenty minutes too long, ponderous, pompous, laboured and has far too much squelchy, stabby, hacking violence. It needs a good re-edit without Jackson insisting on including the entire Tolkien canon or setting up The Lord of the Rings movies for completeness (we saw it Peter, all twelve hours of it).
It suffers from Jackson’s King Kong syndrome – Willis O’Brien told a cracking story in 68 minutes, Jackson went two and a half hours.
Two hours forty and we’ve used up half The Hobbit book and thats with a superfluous prologue featuring Elijah Wood and half the Silmarillion thrown in. Two more movies? What’s he got left to film? Bilbo brushing his teeth?
There’s far too much running about with loopy Super Mario video-game jumping, falling, collapsing bridges, platforms, tunnels, swinging on ropes and more broken bridges. Jackson and co-writer Guillermo Del Toro (Blade II, Hellboy, Mimic) are the Tunnel Kings of the movies.
Fortunately the cast bring big personalities to the screen in an attempt to balance the CGI excesses. If you’re wondering why half the British acting profession disappeared off-screen for 18 months, they’re all here.
Martin Freeman is the ideal Little Englander as Bilbo. However, Richard Armitage (Spooks, Strikeback), perfecting his heroic glower as the dispossessed warrior Thorin Oakenshield takes his Heathcliff-meets-El Cid far too seriously. Ken Stott is a warm and wily sidekick, the other dwarves in the band ably coloured in by the likes of James Nesbitt and Aidan Turner; it’s just that with thirteen, there’s too many of them with silly names designed to fill out a kids’ nursery chant. Just as in the book, you have no idea who’s who, nor do you care.
McKellen reprises Gandalf the wizard, noticeably older, as is Christopher Lee’s Saruman, Kate Blanchett as Galadriel and Hugo Weaving even more sinister as Elrond. And why are this lot here? For a conference. I half expected somebody to roll out some Powerpoint slides. It’s a clunking great extra scene that clangs out portentous dialogue, all it needs it someone to shout “Sauron’s coming back!” But they don’t. It’s a ponderous interlude that loses anyone who’s a casual viewer and not a devoted fan. It’s as much of a drag as all that frenetic running, falling, shouting and splatting is tiresome after the first seventeen platform game levels.
Since we don’t see the dragon, only the devastation it causes (Jackson has learned afresh to delay the reveal) we get some made up villains to fill the gap. Azog the Defiler? I’m left entirely unconvinced by the albino orc: for all his leathery hide and battle scars, the CGI Azog is far less memorable and far less scary as a villain than Lurtz in Fellowship of the Ring.
Barrie Humphries pulls off a rare trick as King Les Patterson of the Goblins, comic and scary at the same time.
The Hobbit, part one. Is it perfect? Far from, but I can forgive some of it’s faults knowing we have two more visits to Middle Earth, a place I’m happy to spend time in – just spend my time wisely, Mr Jackson. RC
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro
Running time: 169 mins
Genre: Adventure, fantasy
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian Holm, Ian McKellen, Aidan Turner, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Billy Connolly, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Evangeline Lilly, Hugo Weaving, Lee Pace, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Richard Armitage, Sir Ian McKellen, Stephen Fry
Related: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey