**** (4 stars)
The Christmas holidays are a season of surprises, whether it is drama on Christmas day or the foreboding deadlines that you have put aside until they suddenly come back as you return to Egham for the second term. For films, it delights both film critics and the general movie-going audience; Oscar contenders start to emerge in the run-up to the awards season, and the holiday blockbusters also appear, but which category does The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey fit into? Peter Jackson’s previous trilogy stormed the awards and was also a success with the public. A glance at what the critics had to say and your hopes of another great trilogy (yes, they’re making three) might start to look sour. While Jackson’s previous efforts with King Kong and The Lovely Bones seemed to have faded from memory, his return to the fantasy world of Middle Earth, while adjusted to match the tone of the book, sees him on familiar territory where he appears to be more comfortable.
Adapted from a book of around 300 pages, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is part 1 in the first of three films as Bilbo Baggins assists 13 dwarves who have lost their homeland due to a dragon and wish to reclaim it. For those who have seen The Lord of the Rings but have not read The Hobbit, they may want to note that this was written with Tolkien’s children in mind. As a result what we see is a considerably lighter depiction of Middle Earth, which is reflected in the tone and the somewhat childish humour. However, the action scenes are just as exciting as the trilogy before, be it somewhat more violent than what I was expecting from a more child-friendly film as severed heads roll across battlefields. To reflect the lighter tone, Jackson removes the prosthetic make-up from the orcs and other creatures in favour of CGI and motion-capture. While the film is undoubtedly visually impressive, the consistent use of CGI removes a sense of gravitas from the story.
That said, in front of all the CGI is a brilliant performance by Martin Freeman as Bilbo. The supporting cast are also fantastic, particularly Richard Armitage as the lead dwarf, Thorin Oakenshield. The script is also really good, leaving you invested until next December for part two. However, if I am to make another complaint, there is a sense that Jackson somewhat struggled in spreading a 300 page book into three films and, as a result, the conclusion feels somewhat forced. While this does hinder the film from being everything fans had hoped it to be, there are many great moments such as the much talked about scene with Gollum, owing much to Andy Serkis’ flawless performance.
The slight alterations from the book shouldn’t bother fans, and the added inclusion of the Necromancer teases the audience with what is to come next, hopefully justifying the need for three films instead of two. While not the perfect film fans hoped it to be, Jackson manages to make 169 minutes pass by in a flash, leaving the audience with a taste for more, which can only be a good thing.