Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Cast: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage , Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis
Director: Peter Jackson
The road goes ever on, sang Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit in the 1937 book of the same name. He may as well have been referring to the running time of the film — a hefty 169 minutes.
The film, taking place decades before the events of the Lord of the Rings, sees Freeman as a pint-sized creature, hairy of foot and severely domesticated by nature. This is until a wizard (McKellen) and 13 dwarves come knocking on his door and whisk him off an the adventure of a lifetime. In a deadly quest for lost dragon-guarded gold, does our hero have what it takes to survive the company of dwarves and, worse, the lurking evils of orcs and trolls?
Professor JRR Tolkien did not hold his works set in Middle Earth in the same regard as his scholarly works and he was downright embarrassed by its prequel the Hobbit, which he wrote for his children. But Jackson is reverential to the source material, cockney-speaking trolls and all. The pacing of the straight-forward film, as mentioned, is almost meditative with the viewer coming across familiar faces. And just when you wonder whether it's being just a tad too slack, it zooms to life like an elven king's loosened arrow with path-breaking sequences worthy of the New Zealand-based effects company Weta Digital. (This reviewer has watched the standard 24 fps version and can not pass a judgment on the controversial 48 fps version. But don't bother more about shelling out more for the 3D version, 2D would suffice) .
The film is visually similar to the acclaimed Lord of the Rings trilogy with its story-book-like colour tones, use of forced perspective and 'bigature' (huge miniature models). The Hobbit presents the kid-friendly nature of the book while bringing to life more gruesome aspects.
Freeman, renowned for his deadpanning, makes for an interesting protagonist with his understated humour. Reluctant as he is, to let go of the comforts of his hole, his character's penchant for craftiness shines through. The motion-captured Serkis, playing a role pivotal to the previous trilogy, has a back-and-forth with Freeman that brings sheer awesomeness to the film. Veterans McKellen and Lee play their roles as wizards Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White in the only way they know how: with grace and strength.
No, the film does not choke on its on linearity, but the progression of chases and scrapes with fierce creatures transform it into the best kind of epic-journey film. And the emotional payoff (Shore's music will take you places, believe me) is well worth the tantalising buildup. Various motives have been attached to the decision to make a full-blown trilogy of Tolkien's relatively slim novel. But on watching the film, the artistic integrity behind it is quite evident. He is simply doing what he couldn't with the Fellowship of the Rings as it would debilitate the telling of the entire tale: taking his time with the adventure, and delving more on the culture and mythology that forms the backdrop of the films.
For Bilbo, the journey may have been an unexpected one, but for us it proves to be quite a breath-taking one. Can't wait to see what follows.