Customer Review

382 of 472 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The King Returns, 14 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (DVD + UV Copy( [2013] (DVD)
Since Sir Peter Jackson's last foray into Middle Earth, he's created the fantastic (King Kong) and the fantastically awful (The Lovely Bones), and now we're back and it's like we never left. Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel)... they've aged like elves - not a day. Tonally this is breezier than the Lord of the Rings (let's call it LotR) trilogy, but great care has been taken to ensure that it fits seamlessly into the same universe. The same exquisite detail in close-up; the same use of long shots to make the characters tiny in a vast world.

J. R. R. Tolkien's little book concerns a little hobbit, who lives in a hole, who finds himself on a big adventure with a gang of dwarves, overseen by the wizard Gandalf. Tolkien's dwarves, seeking an almighty golden hoard hidden under a Lonely Mountain, are closer to Time Bandits than a heroic Fellowship, but Jackson and his co-writers (now including Guillermo del Toro) have shifted their purpose to something more laudable: the reclaiming of their homeland.

In a beautifully crafted opening, after elegantly intersecting with The Fellowship of the Ring, the bumbling dwarves are introduced to Bilbo and ourselves one by one, as unwelcome visitors to his humble home. They eat, they sing, they talk, and the scene is set. These are the characters we'll follow in almost every scene. The Hobbit is much more linear than LotR; scenes concerning Radagast the Brown (a wonderfully eccentric Sylvester McCoy, channelling the spirit of Tom Bombadil) and Azog (the orcish slayer of Thorin's father, Thrain) are brief asides rather than parallel plots.

So it's all about the dwarves, and we get to know a few of them well, particularly the bold leader, Thorin (Richard Armitage). He's as close to our Strider, except more reckless, driven by rage, and far less trusting of the titular halfling. As Bilbo Baggins, Martin Freeman is a more subtle performer than Elijah Wood. And he needs to be - a hero as reluctant as Bilbo is a tough sell, but Freeman convincingly depicts a gradual self-realisation: a drive from within, rather than a compulsion from without.

Jackson proves once again that he's the master of combining CGI with human emotion (even though actual humans are conspicuously absent from the story). The scene involving the Storm Giants - living, fighting mountains - is a good example: rather than giving us an omniscient hawk's eye-view of the battle, Jackson focuses on the real drama: the dwarves and the hobbit, clinging to the giants' knees. And then there's Gollum, arriving for a late cameo. The best chapter in the novel becomes the best scene in the film, with Bilbo and the unlikely keeper of the One Ring riddling in the dark. The special effects might not be technically groundbreaking as they once were, but their integration with real actors remains unsurpassed in cinema.

A couple of issues. Not everyone will get along with the joviality and the slapstick. Once or twice I do feel that certain scenes contain a knowing look too many. (When Gandalf is telepathically communicating with Galadriel, I swear he nods at the audience.) Thankfully, it's consistent, and rarely at the expense of immersion. Also, given what we know, perhaps more could have been done to foreshadow the LotR trilogy - there's certainly room for this in the Rivendell sequence (in which a shabby Gandalf the Grey, in the presence of even greater greatness, looks humbler than we've ever seen him). It's conceivable that an extended cut will provide more references to the impending doom of Middle-Earth.

Given the brevity of the book, what concerned me most was how Jackson et al could possibly
expand the story into the first part of an epic trilogy. The fact that they have, without the film feeling baggy (Bag-Endy?), is, in a sense, an even mightier feat than the adaptation of the LotR novels. It doesn't have the emotional depth of LotR, nor the narrative breadth. It never did. But it has humour and action in droves, along with warmth and intimacy. And it's amazingly good fun - more Jim Henson than Game of Thrones; more Whedon than Nolan. Which is okay by me.

Expect An Unexpected Journey to be condemned as boring and overlong by professional critics (the same critics who probably laud Bela Tarr). Expect it to be dismissed as frivolous and silly. But, more than anything, expect to be entertained by a delightful fantasy film.
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Comments

Tracked by 6 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 33 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Dec 2012 19:38:40 GMT
Midas Touch says:
An excellent, intelligent & literate review of the film - from someone who has not only seen it & paid close attention, but can actually write grammatical English!

Thanks Mr. Harvey. I have a good feel for what the film is like as a viewing experience from your thoughtful review, & you managed to avoid spoilers in the process.

In reply to an earlier post on 14 Dec 2012 22:49:16 GMT
R. J. Lister says:
Thanks for your comment. There were a distressing number of non-reviews for this film when I posted this; hopefully the real reviews will start rolling in, now that the film has actually been released.

Posted on 1 Jan 2013 16:21:32 GMT
Etta Alex says:
Surely what should be reviewed is the DVD of the film, rather than the film itself? As this cannot yet be done, it would be better to wait to review in that context.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jan 2013 17:14:46 GMT
R. J. Lister says:
A valid point, although I don't watch extras or commentaries, so I wouldn't really add anything. I may re-review the extended edition.

While I'm here I might as well correct an error in my review. The living mountains are in fact called "Stone Giants" - I misheard the first time around.

Posted on 18 Feb 2013 15:14:39 GMT
[Deleted by Amazon on 3 Jul 2013 11:36:53 BDT]

Posted on 18 Feb 2013 15:14:47 GMT
[Deleted by Amazon on 3 Jul 2013 11:36:40 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Feb 2013 16:26:04 GMT
R. J. Lister says:
It's not that they literally have not aged, but that they don't look noticeably different from a decade ago.

Posted on 21 Feb 2013 08:53:50 GMT
Veyland says:
Wonder why on (Middle) Earth they decided to make the Goblin King 'camp'?

In reply to an earlier post on 21 Feb 2013 09:05:38 GMT
I thought both Ian Holm and Elijah Wood did look noticeably older. Especially Ian Holm. McKellan too looks slightly older but his make up and prosthetic schnozz hides a lot.

Posted on 12 Mar 2013 08:00:16 GMT
S. Long says:
great review, very detailed though I cannot agree with alot of your comments (see my own review for my thoughts and failings on this film) I argee with your comments on the opening of the film and all the added scenes that are not in the book. The stone giants though for me would have been better if it had been as it was in the book-with the company jut observing it and not being thrust into the middle of in- to me it failed to work due to PJs OTT action (my review goes into detail of the many OTT scenes) It was crazy and unrealistic how the company managed to jump from one giant to another and no one fell, and the fact no one was hurt or killed ruined the scene as it lost all its tension and threat elements- a failing PJ continues with in the remaining fight scenes which were just OTT,with to much cgi, to big and had no tension. In the end it was a fairly good film but was let down by a director who thinks bigger is better and who seemed to think the only way it could top the LOTR was to go OTT, this just made for unrealistic fights with no tension or gripping elements. heres hoping parts 2 and 3 are better.
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