Dec 19 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
In the early part of the noughties, going to the cinema at Christmas time became a real event because of five simple words – The Lord Of The Rings.
Director Peter Jackson’s fantasy trilogy based on J.R.R Tolkien’s books may have numbed the backside with their running time but comfortably rate as three of the best adventure flicks of all time as they took critics and the box office by storm.
And we’re about to go through it all again as The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the first of three annual returns to Middle Earth over the next couple of years.
This first part of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings prequel focuses on Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he is asked by wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to travel to the Lonely Mountain with a group of 13 dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen by the dragon Smaug.
Like The Lord of the Rings, I haven’t read The Hobbit book so I can sit back and enjoy the story without knowing what’s coming and this opening instalment is first-rate fantasy cinema.
Jackson returns behind the camera after Mexican Guillermo del Toro pulled out of the production.
From the super opening where Bilbo tells the story of an attack on the dwarves’ mountain, with nice little teasing shots of future ‘big bad’ Smaug, Jackson brings massive, sprawling, CGI landscapes to gorgeous life using swooping and soaring camera work.
Del Toro receives a screenplay credit, along with Jackson and long-time collaborators, wife Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, and they stick to the successful blend of action, humour and emotion used in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Sore bums again? Yep, it’s over two-and-a-half hours and some scenes drag.
It’s slightly more kiddie-centric too with dumb Cockney trolls and cutesy hedgehogs.
Freeman steps into original Bilbo Ian Holm’s hairy feet and his traditional panicky mannerisms and mystified facial expressions work well with his curious but fearful character.
McKellen is wonderful and the dwarves, including Brits and Irishmen Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), James Nesbitt (Bofur) and Being Human’s Aidan Turner (Kili), are good fun, although some get lost in the shuffle.
And what a strange sight it is to see Tim from The Office, Adam from Cold Feet and Harry from The Vicar of Dibley starring in a big budget blockbuster together. Lord of the Rings’ favourites Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Gollum (Andy Serkis) make fleeting appearances, the latter in a too-long scene with Bilbo.
Action highlights include a dwarves versus Orcs flashback, our heroes trapped in the middle of a battle between stone giants, and a Mines of Moria-esque sequence in the goblin caves. The Hobbit isn’t the instant classic The Lord of the Rings movies were but still rates as a magnificent cinematic experience to end 2012 on a high.