On Tuesday 18th December I was lucky enough to be given, at the last minute, a ticket to the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Sydney. To say I was excited is an understatement! I’ll try to keep this review relatively spoiler free, but its hard!
Coming from the book first and foremost it was most interesting to see how they had changed or adapted the story to fit the (now) trilogy format. Most notably, and this is hardly surprising given that they made The Lord of the Rings first, it begins with an elderly Bilbo, played again by Ian Holm, deciding to narrate his story of The Hobbit (or there and back again) to his nephew Frodo, again played by Elijah Wood, so there is immediately a connection to the films that your average movie goer would have seen already. There are several other LOTR connections & appearances made, though some are drawn directly from other Tolkien appendices rather than the Hobbit text itself.
As with LOTR, the movie really nails the look and feel of Middle-earth (being designed again by veteran illustrators John Howe and Alan Lee) and it’s fantastic to go back to that world and see it at a different time and through a more light-hearted lens. Just as with the books, The Hobbit is more fun and focuses less on fears of war, corruption and darkness and more on adventure and fun. The dwarves are all given time to shine and their very individual costume and makeup designs are fantastic. There are much more comic moments and outlandish characters, such as the twitchy, feral wizard Radagast the Brown ( played by the perfectly cast Doctor Who No.7 Sylvester McCoy ), the mentally-challenged Mountain trolls or the grotesque Goblin King voiced by Barry Humphries. All the actors, but especially Richard Armitage as Thorin ( and of course ther peerless Ian McKellan as Gandalf ), are fantastic and really give their characters depth. I did feel a little as though Bilbo’s character has further to go though.( thankfully there’s 2 more films for that to happen in!). Martin Freeman’s performance is pitch-perfect, but I felt like there should be more for his character arc somehow.
But there is a serious story to tell here, of dragons and danger, and it does feel a little like they’ve had to insert or stretch material to keep our party of heros in peril for this first film, but it is all seemlessly integrated and I for one never felt bored. Like he did with Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson has extended several moments from the books, including flashbacks to events only talked about, into astounding action set-pieces, which look all the more amazing with the new technology now available to him 10 years on.
ON the topic of technology, I will briefly talk about the new “HFR” or High Frame Rate version ( which the premiere was ). Essentially this was one of the first films filmed at twice the speed of regular film ( normally 24 frames per second ), with the idea that this will deliver crisper, sharper and more life-like movement, especially for 3D. If you have a newish TV you’ll probably have seen a similiar technology that artifically replicates it called “True Motion” or “Motion Smoothing”. While I agree it does help make the 3D flow better, for everything else I must say I didn’t like it- it made the movie look like it was shot on a cheap home video camera and motion was slightly TOO fast for my liking. But I’ll leave it there. ( If anyone wants to talk more about it, hit me up on the Forums! )
It seems clear from how this film ends what will be the chief threat for the next film (no spoilers!) and while we only get glimpses of Smaug the Terrible in this film what we do see does give us a hint of the danger to come for the final installment. Visually spectacular and a great thrill-ride its definitely more family friendly than LOTR and the perfect escape from the summer heat! There are certainly scary moments with Gollum and Wargs though, so maybe not so good for little kids. Whats more the cliffhanger ending should hopefully bring many more people to read the original book to find out what happens next!
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Happy Holidays and happy reading everyone!
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