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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
Actors: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage

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Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) is summoned by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to become the fourteenth member of a fellowship designed to free the ancestral home of the Dwarf people from an evil dragon.

Review: It’s nine years now since the epic, studio cinema-defining original Lord of the Rings trilogy came to its apocalyptic climax. After two relative commercial, and certainly, critical, failures with King Kong and The Lovely Bones, it is interesting to see what measure Peter Jackson stands to gain from returning to his sacred brand, from which he had seemingly squeezed every imaginable ounce of industrial and storytelling juice.

In many ways, my overriding sentiment after watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it is remarkably quaint. Out has gone much of the po-faced solemnity of and dense storytelling intensity of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, it feels much like a gentler, more humorous and watered-down version of The Fellowship of the Ring in particular, with that film’s basis on a theme of friendship, and the opening trajectory of a departure from the ‘Garden of Eden’ when in this case Bilbo (and in The Fellowship, Frodo) set forth from The Shire.

One of Jackson’s successes here is in the casting of Martin Freeman in the central role of Bilbo Baggins. Freeman’s persona from his previous TV and cinema roles seems the very quintessence of a plausible Hobbit – full of gentility, affability and good humour. In some respects, his journey in this one film is more gracious and relaxed than Elijah Wood’s strained and hollow-eyed performances in the previous three. Alas, this movie lacks the dramatic gravitas of a Viggo Mortensen or Sean Bean, as all Bilbo and Gandalf have here is the company of dwarves, led by Richard Armitage’s king-in-waiting character.

The film’s sheer running time and expansive fantasy canvas does require some indulgence and is now clearly geared towards a form of fan service. I also wonder whether Guillermo Del Toro (linked to directing The Hobbit over the years) might have been able to conjure something a little different with the subject matter after his great work in loosely-similar styled films Pan’s Labyrinth and HellboyStill, kudos to Jackson for making this film with the same care and reverence that embellished the previous trilogy, and it probably just about trumps most of the other fantasy-inflected cinema being made in the studios now. (December 2012)

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