Review: The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey
2012 – that was the year that wasn't. Twelve months ago it held the promise to be one of the most exciting for mainstream cinema ever. It started brilliantly and late on James Bond came through for us but for the most part it has been a wash out.
If Christopher Nolan can turn out an overblown Dark Knight conclusion and Ridley Scott can't make a decent Alien film than I guess it is no surprise that Peter Jackson can no longer make Tolkien interesting.
This journey goes awry in ways that were entirely expected and some which were not. The first and most obvious is that trying to make an epic trilogy out of a single children's story is not a happy fit. The process of squeezing down the three Lord Of The Rings books meant that with so much to get through nothing got in unless it was absolutely necessary. Here you sense that the screenwriters were desperately searching for stuff to fill up the time. It suffers from being too much like the original – the same New Zealand scenery, the same shots of figures jogging along mountain tops, the same rapid tracking shots over vast armies of people. The things that are different are never as good.
Martin Freeman makes a great everyman but that not quite enough for a Hobbit; his Bilbo is more Bloke than Baggins.
The real surprise is that it looks worse than the original. To distinguish his return to Middle Earth, Jackson has shot it not just in 3D but on digital cameras that film at 48 frames per second, double the standard 24fps. And you do notice it.
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It makes the images sharper and more life like, but also cheaper looking, like it had been shot on some kind of home video camera. It is the feeling you might get if chancing upon a screen showing Sky Sports News in HD: it's better and yet much, much worse.
The Hobbit looks less artificially glossy than the standard special effects extravaganza, but also leaves a lot of those special effects looking horribly exposed on the big screen.
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A sequence where former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy is escaping some Orcs on a chariot pulled by racing rabbits looks so fake you can't believe it was left in the film.
A decade ago Jackson persuaded us to take all this guff about dwarves and elves and dragons seriously, to put aside any prejudices against Tolkien.
What seemed bold and fresh then, now seems tired and over familiar. It's not a bad film, but only worth numbing your bum for if you are a devotee.
THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY (12A)
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt and Andy Serkis
Length: 146 mins