The Hobbit : An Unexpected Journey (Peter Jackson, 2012)

What’s it about? The Hobbit is Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who leads a quiet, unassuming life in his comfortable hobbit-hole in The Shire. But when the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) turns up with a company of 13 dwarves, Bilbo finds himself going on an unexpected journey...

Is it any good? First things first. Let’s get those Lord of the Rings comparisons out of the way. I didn’t expect this to be as good as Fellowship of the Ring, and it’s not, never managing to hit the same heights of that film. So let’s just take a deep breath, temper our expectations and try to assess this on its own terms. If we do that, there is a lot to enjoy in this first instalment of The Hobbit, not least the performance of Freeman, whose bumbling, slightly hangdog manner perfectly embodies the character of Bilbo, but also hints at a stout heart within. Alongside him, McKellen once again shows the class that earned him an Oscar nomination for his first outing as Gandalf. Having said that, the actors playing the dwarves struggle to make a mark, handicapped a bit by their number and their heavy prosthetics. The leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) does little but glower under his eyebrows, Balin (Ken Stott) gets a few nice lines, whilst Bofur (Jimmy Nesbitt) sets himself apart by sounding like Jimmy Nesbitt. Otherwise, they’re much of a muchness, lacking the overall appeal of the Fellowship gang (Oops! – said you wouldn’t compare, Precious! Nasty lies!). No matter, once we’re introduced to the characters, the journey begins and there’s plentiful action and CGI along the way, as our heroes fight with trolls and goblins and orcs, oh my! And, of course, we have Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum, in which the One Ring comes to him, a sequence which provides the highpoint of the film, especially in the moment where pity stays Bilbo’s hand.

"Not perfect, Precious?
Nasty reviewer! Pokes out
your eyeses, Precious!"
But it’s certainly not perfect. Much has been made of Jackson’s self-indulgent approach to the source material and it’s true that it is rather uneven over the long running time (170 mins), with pacing problems and a few sequences which were just begging to be cut in order to drive things forward in a more compelling manner. And depending on which format you see it in, there’s other issues too – more of that below. Still, overall it’s entertaining fare, with a tantalising ending which leaves my appetite whetted for the second half of the film next Christmas. What’s that? Three films!? Really? Oh. Well, that does seem a bit excessive.

Anything else I should know? So I stumped up an extra coupla quid to watch this in 3D and HFR. (Warning! There follows some technical mumbo-jumbo.) HFR is High Frame Rate, a film format which 48 frames per second, or more, as opposed to the normal 24 frames per second. There's a fuller explanation here. Advocates of HFR say it results in a clearer image, reducing blur and strobing effects as the camera moves, particularly in 3D films. Jackson himself declares that in the theatre the effect is not so much looking at a screen as looking through a window at ‘real’ happenings. What do I think? I think it’s a bag of shite. It makes everything look like a soap opera set, or one of those behind-the-scenes featurettes. Not only does the film lose its cinema look, scenes with heavy CGI ironically become more artificial than real. It made Middle-Earth look like Planet Earth, and I felt like I was watching BBC’s new programme Walking With Dwarves. I'm not alone in this. Critics and audiences alike have been less than taken with it. Do yourself a favour – see it the normal way. Didn’t do LOTR any harm. Don't take my word for it though. Hitler thinks so too.

What does the Fonz think?  In a film in the cinema, there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, terrible film, nor yet a brilliant film.  No, this was a hobbit film and that means a little self-indulgent comfort.


  1. Anonymous20/12/12

    I cant find a review of 'its a wonderful life' I have never seen it but I might look for it this christmas. Is it worth watching?

  2. It's only the best film ever made! I haven't reviewed it on here (yet) because I haven't collected enough superlatives yet. It's on several times over Christmas, set some time aside for it.