Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Epic Journey Baggins [Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey]

As an aside, may I say how excited I was to learn that The Hobbit has been shot at the revolutionary hi-tech rate of 48 frames per second. I must add that my sheer ecstasy at this envelope-pushing feat was only slightly tempered by the fact that, thanks to the miracle of interlacing, television has been broadcast at 50 frames per second since the 1920s. Way to go Peter Jackson!

Do I need to summarise? Perhaps. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of a planned trilogy adapted from Tolkien’s The Hobbit, the prequel to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) recounts an adventure that takes him out of the cosy Shire and into the dangerous reaches of Middle Earth in the company of an elderly wizard (Sir Ian McKellan) and a band of dwarves seeking to re-take their mountain kingdom.

There is a trend for expanding books into multiple films: Harry Potter 7 and Twilight 4 were both made into two-parters. The commercial advantages are obvious, although in the case of Harry Potter 7 I think it was also a good artistic decision.

However, The Hobbit is a short, children’s novel, so developing it into a trilogy means playing fast and loose with the pacing, expanding back-stories, flashbacks and action scenes sometimes to the point of boredom. On the other hand some of the action is great – a scene in which nature-wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) leads the Orcs a merry chase in his rabbit-sleigh is both dramatic and amusing, in keeping with the light tone of the novel.

Another aspect of the film perhaps a little too faithful to the novel is the near-absence of femininity. Unlike modern sci-fi and fantasy which is full of strong, confident and interesting female characters, Tolkien's cast are predominantly male, and I have to be honest and say I found the film a little less enjoyable as a result. Cate Blanchett is excellent as the elven queen, for her few minutes on-screen. Otherwise women are just background – Hobbit washerwomen in the Shire, elven musicians in Rivendell. There may have been a female dwarf running away from a dragon in one of the flashbacks.

Overall the strengths of this film outweigh these points – as with The Lord Of The Rings, Tolkien’s fantasy landscape is once again brought to life, the film is very faithful to the characters and Middle Earth lore, and once again the cast are incredible – hard to say which out of Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis (once again playing Gollum via motion-capture) or Sylvester McCoy is the real show-stealer.


umashankar said...

That is a brief but incisive aside into Hobbit. Interesting that the lack of female characters could cause a vacuum of sorts.

I had always believed interlacing video was an inferior technology and even 24P is supposed to be way higher. What went wrong with 48P?

Sci-Fi Gene said...

It didn't ruin the film for me, except that at times when I wanted to feel part of an epic cinematic adventure and actually I just felt as if I was at home watching a video.

Sci-Fi Gene said...

Vacuum is exactly right. This movie fails the Bechdel test by a wide margin.