The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Contrary to my friend’s view that a dwarf asking if the elves of Rivendell have any chips was the worst moment in the film I would suggest this accolade be bestowed upon the musical plate throwing scene which may have worked great in 3D but in 2D was a big fat waste of time. The concept of ‘chips’ in Middle Earth is not without precedent given that Sam kept banging on about tatties in the original screen trilogy and there are plenty of axes and trees about a combination of which would give you woodchips. It’s not a great leap to imagine that fried potato chips are on the menu somewhere between Hobbiton and The Lonely Mountain. After smoking enough pipe-weed I’m sure the dwarves or maybe Gandalf himself would have chanced upon this culinary masterpiece along with a goat meat kebab perhaps? In fact the fat bastard goblin king (voiced by Dame Edna of all people) featured in the film was a stark contrast to the trim crazy haired figure of Bowie and leads me to believe that it is in fact the goblins who have perfected the art of frying food.

The worst special effect moment for me was the collapse of the multi-decked bridge which would not have looked out-of-place in The Temple of Doom. Although to be fair the Indy team would have been using miniatures not CG. It stuck out like such a big sore thumb because of the excellent effects used for Gollum. Of course with Gollum it is not just about the effects – there is a script and there is a performance. The script overall, and especially for the riddling in the cave, was suffused with a humour only hinted at in LOTR, and the performance by Andy Serkis was once again the most memorable part of the film experience.

The length of the film (169min) has been criticised – how can they milk such a short children’s book for two or three films? Well the answer is twofold. First and obvious is the indulgent aerial tracking shots over New Zealand’s breath-taking scenery helped in no small part by the odd time shifts in Middle Earth which produce stunning sunsets on cue. The second answer is that they can’t. As far as I understand there is only material from the original source for two films and the third is going to be ‘made up’ (as if the rest is real history!) to link it directly to LOTR from other Tolkien sources. This attempt at linkage begins in this first outing and makes the Unexpected Journey take some unexpected diversions.

The main scene that I’m pretty confident does not appear in the book is a conversation between Elrond, Galadriel, Saruman and Gandalf over the existence of a necromancer hanging about in a ruined fortress something hereto unheard of in Middle Earth. Gandalf thinks he has proof in having been given a Morgul blade by the eccentric wizard Radagast played brilliantly by Sylvester McCoy with birdshit in his hair. Saruman, the wily old git, fobs everything off as coincidence and tries to halt the dwarf company’s journey. They sneak off anyway. Another added bit is the ‘book-end’ with old Bilbo talking to Frodo prior to his eleventy-first birthday bash which starts off the Fellowship of the Ring, and I am sure will end the third film as another ‘book-end’ (There and Back Again?).

As a big LOTR and Hobbit fan I left the cinema vaguely disappointed – not because Jackson and company had not delivered on providing me with an excellent interpretation of the much-loved classic (albeit a half-told story), but that there was not enough spectacle. This was more of a monocle. Having already seen (some would say endured) the three LOTR films I knew what to expect and I wanted the Hobbit to give me more. It was unfortunately a little too samey. Fighting goblins in a cave, collapsing wooden bridges, hanging onto the side of mountains, orcs on giant wargs, rescue by moth summoned giant eagles, aloof elves and sparks of magic from scruffy old grey Gandalf. Much like Harold Zidler in Moulin Rouge I wanted a spectacular spectacular. Perhaps the producers / director were reliant on the 3D aspect of the filming as the new element of spectacle and I made a mistake in seeing it through the single lens of 2D, but I doubt it somehow. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, I just wanted to enjoy it more. However, I have high hopes that the proper, rather than just hinted at, appearance of Smaug the dragon in the next film will appease my lust for new stuff. Were they teasing, or is it that they haven’t agreed on the final design of the CG creature? At least I hear it has a voice – that of Benedict Cumberbatch soon to be also playing the baddie in Star Trek into Darkness.

Please don’t misunderstand me, The Hobbit was still one of the best films I have seen this year and not half as disappointing as the likes of Total Recall or Promethues.

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