When I look back to my earliest memories of browsing through the school library, looking for books to devour, The Hobbit leaps to mind as one of the very first that completely captured my imagination and forever solidified itself as one of my all-time favourite novels and the reason for my continued love for the fantasy genre. And so to see this on the big screen was like having all my childhood memories come to life. I guess I mention all this to give something of a ‘heads-up’ that there may be a haze of nostalgia surrounding my view on the film, but as always I will endeavour to be fair in my review.
So for those who are asking ‘what’s a Hobbit?’, here’s a quick overview: ‘The Hobbit’ is J.R.R. Tolkien’s first work of fiction and was an instant hit, becoming something of a standard by which fantasy writing would forever be influenced by. It is based 70 years prior to the events of the later written book, which you may have heard of, called ‘The Lord of the Rings‘ (LotR). The Hobbit was always a more family friendly story lacking in much of the darker fantasy elements of its much larger predecessor. Hobbits are peace loving, proper creatures that enjoy their quite lives and go to great pains to avoid any sort of disturbances. So when the Wizard Gandalf the Grey appears before one such Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins and offers him an opportunity for adventure, he his promptly asked to move on and have a nice day. This book follows the story of Bilbo and the adventure he eventually finds himself on to help a band of Dwarves reclaim their kingdom from the dragon Smaug who decided to take up residence there some years earlier. While being mostly independent from the LotR in regards to plot, there lots of background events that help to setup the story for the larger world, and also how Bilbo comes by the One Ring that is later passed onto Frodo.
Peter Jackson has returned to create these movies, which has now become a trilogy, the reason for this, besides the obvious grab for cash, also includes the expansion of the story based on Tolkien’s notes and his other works such as the Silmarillion. Part 1, ‘An Unexpected Journey’ covers the first five chapters of The Hobbit and accomplishes this with a frightening and welcome level of accuracy, some scenes being almost completely verbatim, especially the ‘riddles in the dark’ scene where Bilbo and Sméagol match wits.
One of the criticisms of this film is that it is slow paced and painstaking on detail, however you can’t come into this film expecting the climatic scenes you last saw in the final chapters of the LotR. The first chapters of any book consist mainly of exposition and plot development, and couple that with the fact that this is a true fantasy movie, meaning that there is always lots of traveling, so don’t go into this movie expecting an action film with people dressed up like fantasy creatures, this IS a fantasy film with a great balance of plot and character development and yes moments of action as this fellowship fights its way through not only Goblins and Mountain Trolls but a mountain full of Trolls!
The ground breaking aspect that Jackson has (and please forgive some of the tech jargon here but it’s pretty cool) added to the creation of this film is his decision to pioneer High Frame Rate (HFR) 3D filming. Historically films have always been shot at 24 frames per second (fps), Jackson decided to increase this by doubling it to 48fps. The reasons behind this where mainly twofold; firstly that is increases the quality and clarity of the picture and secondly it reduces many of the setbacks that have come with 3D movies such as motion sickness and tired eyes. I did get to see the film in HFR3D and honestly I thought it looked fantastic. But heads up, it does take about 10-15 minutes to get accustomed to it, at the beginning everything seems to move faster than it should, but the feeling passes. And as with HD filming, there comes a higher level of effort required to make thighs look ‘realistic,’ so while I never thought I was looking at a film set at any point, there are some moments (if you’re looking harder than you should when enjoying the movie) where one might be able to spot makeup and special effects tricks. In the end it is new technology and there is room for perfecting it. For all this, the 3D looks clearer than I’ve ever seen and it is never ‘in your face,’ being used perfectly and merely as an enhancement to the film, so if you have the opportunity to watch it how it was filmed then I highly recommend that you try it out. I can almost guarantee that this technology will be here to stay if it doesn’t become the new standard for the film industry.
The whole movie is well put together and Martin Freeman delivers a solid performance as Bilbo as does the rest of the Cast. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Sméagol (otherwise known as Gollum in LotR) and it is a masterpiece moment of cinema, for which he will sadly never receive any awards though he completely deserves them.
So should you watch this movie? Yes if you like fantasy, and you enjoyed LotR, especially if you, like me, enjoyed the opening scenes of the ‘Fellowship of the Ring‘ which were based in The Shire as this films defiantly keeps that feeling throughout its progression, epically with a mob of Dwarves that are like the most rowdy group of brothers that I’ve ever seen. There is defiantly no reason to avoid this film, unless you have some irrational fear of hairy Hobbit feet or oversized eagles, by all standards this is a solid film, and a great introduction to the fantasy genre just like the book.