Thomas Clarke’s review published on Letterboxd:
After a stuttering start to the production - this film was plagued with issues at the beginning - ‘The Hobbit : The Unexpected Journey’ has finally been released to the general public. The first part in a planned double bill that has been developed into a trilogy, this film does much the same to bring the narrative forward that the first ‘Lord of the Rings’ film succeeded in doing. Changing director from Guillermo del Toro, who was first planned, to Peter Jackson - the original trilogies director- this film feels a part of the original trilogy, but also in some mannerisms a separate article that can viewed and enjoyed alone. Once again audiences are asked to enter the magical world of Middle-Earth, where inhabitants include Elves, Dwarves, Orcs and Hobbits surrounding the rollicking hills and countrysides. Into this mix the narrative blends fantasy element with a real character development piece, thus giving across the feel that once again the Director has managed to create a film that is both fulfilling and wonderful to watch.
Originally published 21 September 1937, ‘The Hobbit’ is often counted as the beginning to modern fantasy fiction. Written by an Oxford lecturer turned author, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (better known as J.R.R Tolkien), the book won numerous awards and has become a literacy classic throughout the world since its first release. Focusing on the quest of a young and unadventurous creature, known as a Hobbit, the book asked audiences to transport their imaginations into the magical world that the author had concocted. When his most famous work was published some 18 years later, ‘The Lord of the Rings’ also took people into this creative place. Deemed un-filmable, the books did not get adapted onto the big screen until the early part of the 2000’s when director Peter Jackson, against all odds, gave a worthy rendition of the written work. Creating massive box office returns and winning much acclaim, it is not surprising to find the earlier works having finally made the transition to cinema screen - and DVD stands.
Besot with massive delays to production, due in large to the huge financial struggles that distributor and studio MGM suffered, as well as a director change half way through production, ‘The Hobbit’ seemed unlikely to ever reach our screens. However, through great respect to the filmic world of the predecessors and the creative vision of the director - and filmmaking team- ‘The Hobbit’ once again showcases the magnitude and epic-ness that can be derived from the source material. Pleasing fans of both the original trilogy of films as well as the novels that derived them, ‘The Hobbit : An Unexpected journey’ is crafted with the same amount of care and class, that the film easily slots into the audiences perception of what this world entails.
Focusing on Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit from The Shire that originally was shown in the original trilogy, the narrative utilises a sandwich technique in showing time lapse between story lines - thus giving them a concrete solution to placing the narrative of this feature within the timeline of the first three films. Beginning on the morning of the party that begins ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ the film shows the aged Hobbit, deciding upon the creation of memoirs outlining his earlier adventures, begins to narrate how Middle Earth was in-advertedly included him on a dangerous and life risking quest to claim back a forgotten and lost realm that once belonged to a highly respected society of Dwarves. Outlaying a prequel to this prequel, the film thrusts audiences straight into the action, showing the attack of this location from the dragon known as Smaug. Devastating the dwarfish clan, the dragons attack forces the survivors to leave their home and live between places. Promised to once again win back their kingdom, a young dwarf prince leads his people but never forgets.
Switching focus to a much younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman), the film showcases the expert acting talents of two British thespians in their opening scene together. Bilbo, unadventurous, prim and proper, does not feel too kindly towards the notion of adventures - instead happiest surrounding by home-comforts and warmth. When wandering Wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), decides to include the young Hobbit in his plan to take back the lost kingdom, his feelings towards adventurous is forced to differ. Later he is equally surprised, when a company of Dwarves turn up on his doorstep. After a merriment and their plan is explained, Bilbo doubts himself. However, when he awakens the next morning, the adventure burns hard in his mind, thus resulting in him leaving his home and joining the other 13 in completing their goal. On the way he will encounter numerous difficulties, and gain something so huge it will differ the world they inhabit forever.
Using the novel as a backbone to the films plot, the film also fills in some more narrative from the information found within the many appendices that are written about this written world. These include the birth of darkness into the world, and the inclusion and sub plots of new and interesting characters. With the first part in the new series, the filmmakers and more importantly writers have done wonders in filling a epic duration with interesting and enlightening aspects of the world. Peter Jackson and his creative team (Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens) have managed to condense the written word into a streamlined and slick narrative that is continually moving along at such a pace that befits the prequel to an already established - and loved - franchise. Some scenes are more entertaining than others, granted, but overall the film fills its timely duration well enough. What is surprising most about this film, is perhaps the decision to make a relatively small book into a epic length trilogy. However, on witnessing the first part of their work, the film manages to never feel thin in its content. Characters are given enough development in their roles, and although some dwarfs appear less than other, what the filmmakers have achieved in creating 13 characters that feel and look different allows this film to feel deep and meaningful.
Now, when it comes to actors within this movies, the director and casting team has decided upon filling the roles with a majority chosen from british and oceanic waters. Martin Freeman, as Bilbo, has been quoted ‘As the only choice for the role’ by director Peter Jackson. This is a clear cut decision based on his performance in this film. A relative newcomer to big blockbuster films, having a more studded television career, the decision to have him lead such a big movie really was bold move by the creative team, but one that pays completely off come the end of the film. Utilising his charm and charisma in the role, Bilbo is extremely engrossing, likable and fun - giving the whole film a lighthearted feel throughout. Progressing into his role, as the film progresses, his Bilbo comes to life as his confidence in portraying him grows. Ian McKellen once again returns as Gandalf, from his role in the original trilogy. Having him feature in this film, really does make the ‘The Hobbit’ tie into the predecessory trilogy. Formative in his performance, he carries attention on screen and enables a nostalgic feeling from fans of the first three films to carry into the scenes in which he is present. Showcasing his vast experience in his career, his Gandalf once again outlines the talent and class that this actor can convey. Finalizing the last lead role of the film, Richard Armitage - also more found in television roles - is stubborn and firm in his role as the young Dwarf Prince Thorin. Carrying the mantle that Viggo Mortensen did in his role as Aragorn, similarities will be obviously placed between the two characters. Advancing his acting pedigree in the move to a big filmic production, Armitage outlines the confidence that Peter Jackson had in casting him in such an important role.
With the company of Dwarfs being filled with a mixture of different nationality actors, the film feels very multicultural in the performances. With this in mind, the screen depictions all differentiate from one another, thus giving the characters more understanding and development than is found in the book. Although, with so many a part of this mix, some characters are given less screen time - and therefore purpose than others. This means that some characters appear less important to the overall finished film. However, with two further installments to come, this lack of character definition will hopefully be addressed. Another returning cast member to feature in this film, is the extremely talented Andy Serkis who once again portrays Gollum - the role which made his name. In the one scene, that comes the final third of the picture, that involves his portrayal Serkis once again steal the show. Easily the best sequence from the entire film, his Gollum feels very much the same as the one known from the earlier trilogy, although slightly more disjointed and crazed. Utilising advanced motion capture, this cinema creation has never looked better - therefore making the overall finished scene the more threatening. Sylvester McCoy should also be noted in creating a fun and comedic character, although also odd, in the role of Radagast- another wizard character.
Including ‘Lord of the Rings’ veterans in this film, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee and Ian Holm really add to the continuity of this feature. By including these cast members into the production, the filmmakers have obviously made the decision to further enhance the appeal of this film to that of pleasing the continuous support that the original films have garnered.
With excellent locations and set designs, ‘The Hobbit : An Expected Journey’ really showcases the brilliance of the creative worlds found within the source material. Once again basing the filming of this production in the beautiful vistas and extravagant ranges of New Zealand, the film-making team have utilised all locations to the maximum potential they can reach. Locations that are important to the narrative are chosen well, fitting the purpose excellently. Where physical sets have had to be produced, the creative minds behind such a task have once again stepped up to the mark, in creating pieces of locations that fit into the world that the director has envisioned on screen. The cinematography of this film therefore should be commended for advancing once the standard once again within film productions.
One more returning attribute to this production is the film score that accompanies the narrative. Once again composed by the acclaimed Howard Shore, the score really does wonders in adding a level of depth when watching this film as a continued part of the overall LOTR franchise. His pieces of classical music, hold elements of charm and a magical underscore which really adds to the overall feel of the film. As well as the score, the music in this film also involves a couple of songs sung by the cast. This ties into the source material well - Tolkien really enjoyed a good poem and song in his books - and the ones showcased in this production really heighten on those that appeared in the first three films. The Dwarf company singing the husky song at Bagend - the home of Bilbo - resonates more emotion than any that are featured in the other films. This is down to the manner in which the scenes that feature the song is directed, with lighting and shadows - like most of the film - affecting the finished performance and content on screen. If there was a way in which a good score could be outlined, a picture of this film would suffice. to say it is grand is an understatement.
One new element that this film brings to Middle Earth is through the relatively new technology that enhances viewers scope of framing, through the use of 3D. Peter Jackson, although gimmicky in places, utilises the new median to such an effect that some scenes are jaw-droppingly enhanced through the added depth that 3D gives. The Goblin town scene, is the best use of this technology in the film. Adding sheer size to the setting of such an important - and conclusive - scene. Others do not work the 3D so well, with the Warg/Radagast chase being one such scene. In this scene, and other similar ones, the film really feels like two sequences cut and pasted on top of each other but different from one another. This detracts from the immersion that audience can claim on such scenes. Although they do not appear often enough to spoil the film completely, they do detract enough from the brilliant use of this technique that Peter Jackson includes.
When looking into the flaws of this film, it is hard to find any of such importance that the film is detract able on a major level. Some people will find the length of this film to be too long, with to much filler material included into the narrative. However, for the most part the length feels correct and the film never feels slow or bogged down with unimportant content. The choice to make this film into three parts will also annoy some people, but again with such a tapestry of written information depicting the world that is visited, the filmmakers seemingly have done the correct thing in showcasing as much depth as they feel the film needs. The choice of splitting it into three will of course warrant the belief that only box office revenue played a part in the decision, however true this is - everyone needs to make money - as long as the film gives over enough depth and development to warrant the split, then the film does enough to completely justify the decision. The use of higher frame-rate in this film is also a decision that will split audience members, some will like the added clarity that it adds, others will hate the overall realistic manner in which the frame comes to life. However, you sit with the decision it should be noted that through filmmakers taking bold decisions, the industry grows - thus making the importance of people that work in the industry in adapting and developing these added enhancements to their craft.
To conclude, ‘The Hobbit : An Unexpected Party’ is a filmmakers triumphant return to a filmic universe in which such acclaim has already been placed. Peter Jackson has requested your attention as an audience to his work and thoroughly deserves it. Nostalgic for fans of the original trilogy, and an easier, more lighthearted film to begin the journeys of those new to the series, ‘The Hobbit’ balances the content and depth needed with the lightheartedness that the original novel had. Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage carry the film and all its content well through its epic three hour duration, but still the film is able to stolen by Andy Serkis once again on form with his performance. The beginning of a worthy sub franchise to a successful past film series? Most definitely yes. Audience members are only asked to believe in the magical. It is in this sense that this film really achieves upon the success that the filmmakers so deservedly should warrant. A