An Unexpected Journey: The Hobbit, Part 1
Directed by Peter Jackson
I wasn’t going to review blockbusters here, but … Tolkien. He lived half a mile away in Lakeside Road, Poole and before that holidayed regularly at the Miramar Hotel on Bournemouth East Cliff, then, as now, rather a stuffy, school dinners on crisp white tablecloths with silver service sort of establishment.
My first experience of The Lord Of The Rings was when my then girlfriend went home for the weekend and said ‘This might keep you occupied …’ That was Friday night. By Sunday night, with no sleep, I’d finished it. All three volumes. I read The Hobbit on the Monday. We have the word-for-word reading on 38 cassettes, and have heard it twice, and the BBC dramatization on 13 cassettes. My favourite version of The Hobbit is the Nicole Williamson audio book. Having just seen the film, the Nicole Williamson version still is my favourite version.
This is a comparative review. I’ve read lots. They all seem to agree that the dwarf intro scenes, at 40 minutes are too long, and that the film takes off after that when the action begins.
I feel the reverse is true. The outstanding pieces are the introduction of the dwarves in the Hobbit hole, and then later the scenes with Gollum. Is it too long? It is long, but I was never bored. In plot terms, I felt there was far too much extraneous material (all of it a visual delight, but that’s no excuse), and that we saw too many huge SFX scenes. I definitely got tired of elevated crickety walkways over huge cavernous drops; I definitely got tired of so many people nearly falling to their deaths. There is no excuse for making it three films. The book (280 pages) is equivalent to less than one volume of its sequel, The Lord Of The Rings. Two films was pushing Peter Jackson’s luck. I’d say one film, four hours and an interval. Cut like that it would have been stupendous.
The extraneous stuff was often irritating because it looked ahead in chronology to themes from The Lord Of The Rings, so had been bolted onto The Hobbit. The long prequel on how the dwarves lost their kingdom to Smaug the dragon worked though, as long as we accept Dwarvish architects ran to Mines of Moria catwalks across huge caverns wherever they were. There are many plot flaws in Tolkien. The big, big one in The Lord of The Rings is Tom Bombadil. He is so powerful that had they enlisted him in the company, bing! Problems over. They realized this when scripting the films. The Eagles are similarly powerful, especially as bolted onto The Hobbit (Part One).
Tolkien’s genius lies in the interaction between … well, hardly “people” … um, “beings.” That’s balanced with the big battle Dungeons & Dragons stuff. Here the big battles take too high a proportion, reducing the impact of the little things that Tolkien prized … the being-interaction. Reviews said the Gollum scene was too long. But it was brilliant (and they have improved Gollum too, and Andy Serkis is even better). Martin Freeman said on the Graham Norton Show that it was the first ten days of filming of the whole thing. In the whole movie, you needed to get close in and be charmed by Freeman and repelled by Serkis, as a break from the eventually wearisome action.
Martin Freeman is one of the best pieces of casting imaginable. He is the perfect Bilbo. Period. Ian McKellan always was the perfect Gandalf. There is a lot of humour, most of it added. It works. There was always a wink and a nod about the love of “tobacco” or “weed” in Tolkien and here it’s explicit when a deep puff turns a hobbit cross-eyed and woozy.
There is much talk of technical stuff … 48 frames per second (HFR) instead of 24 supposedly smooths it so much it looks like video, not film. Not a problem for me, but I have edited a lot on HD video. 3D was a problem for me, and I wish I’d seen it in 2D. The 3D pulls characters forward and flattens the backgrounds so much that even real New Zealand landscape ends up looking like a backcloth, so heightens the visual unreality. The hobbits look real, Thorin looks real, none of the other dwarves look remotely “real”. OK, dwarves aren’t real, but I mean the interface of wig and prosthetic mask is screaming at you. The colour balance heightens the unreality, or maybe New Zealand really is that luminous green, and light always falls on faces in orange one side, blue the other.
I will watch again, and I’ll deliberately go for 2D. I have a feeling it will look better.
The consensus of reviews seems to be three stars. I think that’s right. I also have to agree that 30 to 40 minutes shorter would be better. We watched the Extended version of The Lord Of The Rings in preparation, and I think the first theatrical release is better than the extended version too, in all three films. With The Hobbit they’ve started with the extended version, if you like. When the second wave of DVDs finally arrives, I wonder what the “extended” version of this long film will be like.