Peter Jackson’s latest Tolkien adaptation is a film so enjoyable that I would encourage even those who were not fans of his Lord of the Rings trilogy to put those aside and go see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. A handful of characters already familiar to fans and general filmgoers alike make their return, with new friends, and the result is quite possibly one of the best films of 2012. Forget the controversy about the film’s frame-rate (48 frames per second, rather than the traditional 24), there’s no negative feel to the outcome on screen, and the 3D presentation certainly benefits from it as the feeling of eye-strain often associated with it is far less of an issue with Jackson’s choice.
The film’s opening sequence establishes its premise: the ancient kingdom of the Dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, Erebor, falls to a mighty dragon and their Elven allies fail to come to their aid. Cast into the world with no home to return to, the Dwarves assimilate into the worlds of others as master craftsmen. The CGI sequences here (and indeed throughout) are fantastical and incredible, setting the tone for what is veritable feast for the eyes and ears.
Following a brief return to screen by the familiar aged Bilbo and young Frodo (Sir Ian Holm and Elijah Wood, respectively), we slip back in time to meet the fresh-faced younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) enjoying a nice smoke outside his home. The peace and quiet-loving Hobbit initially spurns an invitation to embark on an adventure with Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen), but the wizard has other ideas. And so their adventure begins.
Encounters with trolls, orcs, elves, goblins and yet more orcs follow as the gang overcome one obstacle after another on their journey. Our reintroduction to Andy Serkis’ Gollum and his game of riddles with the wayward hobbit is undoubtedly the film’s highlight, ten years in the making. Ever the scene stealer, Serkis gives perhaps his best turn as the creature in this outing.
Of the many impressive set pieces, the final encounter between the dwarves and their orcish pursuers is perhaps the best. This battle sees some spectacular use of 3D by Jackson; from little flecks of sparks and burning pine cones that appear to dash toward one’s eyes, to soaring aerial shots of the gang’s rescue that are worth the cost of the glasses on their own.
As an adaptation of Tolkien’s various works, The Hobbit is a clever and involving amalgam, drawing not only from the novel but the vast appendices from his Lord of the Rings trilogy. Some may see this as a negative, an attempt to draw out the film’s runtime and stretch one book into an additional trilogy merely for the sake of amassing more money. But plenty of story is told in the nigh-on three hours Jackson serves up – and what a delight his offering is.
The actors are clearly a tight bunch from the long intensive work together, and appear to respond well to their long-term mentor behind the camera. The rapport generated is palpable, with a sense of the characters blending into a world the actors can believe in and this goes a long way towards making the film as great as it is.
It’s at this point that this review will be categorised instantly as invalid by the die-hards, since I confess that up until now, I’ve not been a huge fan of Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. I first fell in love with the story through Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 rotoscope animated version, and it was such a magical childhood memory that I struggled to allow myself to fall under this director’s spell. I enjoyed the films and happily sat through them, but I’d never be seen in line for a marathon screening, or be found quoting lines with others who have taken them completely to heart. However, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is such a triumph through which one can be introduced to Middle Earth and its characters, that not only will I hungrily await the sequels as a lover of film, but I suspect once they are all seen and digested I will finally get in line to see again all nine-and-a-bit hours Jackson’s first trilogy.