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Great story, unfortunately this production has aged badly
on 25 October 2012
Originally recorded in 1968, this is a full cast Radio 4 production of the absolute classic The Hobbit. One of my favourite ever books, I have read it several times over the years.
I had never heard this audio rendering of the book, and looked forward very much to hearing it.
The production was actually recovered from an amateur tape recording of the original. The master copy having been wiped by the BBC some time following its original broadcast on radio. This explains the slightly sub-par quality of the audio - although it has to be said, it is still quite listenable.
Acting and casting is extremely good for the most part, with Paul Daneman as Bilbo and John Justin as Thorin Oakenshield being especially entertaining.
Unfortunately I personally feel that Heron Carvic as Gandalf does let the side down somewhat. His voice is rather meek, and not the dominant, masterful tones one might expect from such a commanding character in the story. He also seems to struggle with his lines at times, and just doesn't quite match up to the other cast members' performances. This is a real shame.
The narrative music is written and performed in a medieval style, which is refreshing and feels very authentic, but it is used too repetitively to book-end each section of the story, and it does begin to grate after a while. Not a major criticism, but something which could have been done somewhat better.
Most of the human, elf and dwarf voices are portrayed naturally as one might expect. However, the non-human voices (eagles, trolls, goblins and spiders) are heavily modified with some kind of frequency modulation of the type obviously employed by the Dr Who production team. As a result, all of these characters tend to come across as 'variations on a Dalek' which detracts greatly from their performances, and makes them difficult to understand. It is also rather harsh, and begins to grate on the ear after a while.
In summary then, a well produced script and excellent acting from most of the cast, let down by some very dated sound effects and mis-cast Gandalf.
No doubt in its day it was a cutting edge production. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to it, and I fear many modern day fans of the book will be somewhat disappointed.
Certainly worth a listen, but I'm not sure whether you'll want to re-visit it often.