Movie review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Return to Middle Earth: the official trailer for Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.
It's been nine years, but Sir Peter Jackson makes a welcome return to Middle Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a surprisingly dark, action-packed take on JRR Tolkien's children's book.
When The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released in 2003, it raked in more than $1 billion worldwide as well as winning 11 Academy Awards, so understandably, the pressure on this first instalment of The Hobbit trilogy is immense.
But, particularly for franchise fans, Jackson doesn't disappoint.
While The Hobbit as a book is a light read designed for children, for the movie Jackson and his co-writers have pulled in darker elements from Tolkien's writings and their imagination to make the story more compelling.
By doing so they create danger and tension, such as playing more on the relationship between the elves and dwarves.
As well, it allows Sir Ian McKellen more to do as Gandalf the Grey (never a bad thing), but also ensures the film packs punch with many links to LOTR.
The Hobbit opens on the same day the Fellowship of the Ring began with Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) celebrating his birthday, and Elijah Wood as Frodo.
After the introduction, it flashes back 60 years, where a younger Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) is called upon by Gandalf and 13 dwarves on a quest to help them reclaim their kingdom, currently held hostage by the dragon Smaug.
Freeman quickly sets himself apart from Wood's earnest, innocent Frodo. He's more pompous, set in his ways, and much funnier, with his twiddling thumbs and nervous reactions.
There are welcome returns from Aussies Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Hugo Weaving as Elrond, as well as Christopher Lee as Saruman, who make up a council of epic proportions. Galadriel and Gandalf together are especially amusing.
In an effort not to spoil anything, let's just say when Andy Serkis makes his slippery return with "my precious", it marks the best scene in the film. Here's hoping the performance capture expert walks home with an Oscar this time.
An Unexpected Journey, which covers about a third of the book over its 160 minutes, has the company running from a variety of evil creatures which rely heavily on CGI, like the stone giants, trolls, Wargs (a kind of wolf) and orcs. These darker moments create suspense and in comparison, the childish, slapstick moments more close to the book seem a bit twee, like the introductory scene with the dwarves. But these and some songs have been commendably kept in for book purists.
One of the issues with The Hobbit is having 13 dwarves as main characters. Although it had to be done because of the book, you walk out being able to name maybe four of them, even though Jackson has gone to great lengths to make each as individual as possible.
Of those that stay with you, the deep-voiced Richard Armitage stands out as Thorin, who's reminiscent of Aragorn and likely to become a fan favourite.
Other newcomers of note include an unrecognisable Barry Humphries as The Goblin King, Sylvester McCoy as Radagast the Brown, and Manu Bennett as Azog, a giant white CGI orc.
Shot at 48 frames per second, double the standard, The Hobbit looks clearer, crisper and realistic. The difference is quite noticeable during fast sequences and works best in the landscape shots, showcasing the epic scenery of New Zealand in glorious detail and notably some wonderful sequences in Rivendell and Hobbiton. Coupled with 3D, which the 48fps enhances, it adds another layer to the experience and really makes you feel like you're a part of the world of Middle Earth.
Despite not having a good vs evil battle of epic proportions like the final episode of LOTR, with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Jackson has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable, surprisingly dark adventure, with enough tie-ins to please fans and a final sequence to leave you waiting eagerly for the next instalment.
Review by Caris Bizzaca. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey releases at cinemas nationwide on Boxing Day.
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Dark take on Tolkien's tale: Martin Freemans as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.