Saturday, 5 January 2013

Small People On A Quest

Almost ten years ago, a film was released that dominated the Oscars. It was the third instalment of an already extremely high profile film and won every Oscar it was nominated for; eleven separate Academy Awards. It is, of course, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Since then, fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy have been sitting around waiting for something interesting to happen. So when The Hobbit was announced, there was rejoicing around the world - though there was scepticism when it was reported that the book would be split into three films. However, the first part is now out: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a small creature called a Hobbit, is a quiet man who lives in the shire, content with his mundane existence. One day, Gandalf the Grey (Ian Mckellen), a wizard, turns up on his doorstep and invites him on an adventure. Bilbo rejects the offer and goes back to his boring life, whilst Gandalf invites thirteen dwarves to meet at Bilbo's anyway. The dwarves, led by warrior Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), want to reclaim the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, which is fiercely guarded by a dragon called Smaug. The dwarves set off on their adventure leaving a tingle of temptation on Bilbo who eventually runs off to join the dwarven mob and wizard guide on their quest. With plenty of obstacles along the way, including orcs, goblins, trolls, giant rock men, and Gollum (Andy Serkis) - only life threatening things - the group fight together with bravery, strength, and commonly, stupidity. Gandalf occasionally leaves them for other matters involving a necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) and his fellow wizards, but always finds his way back to count the dwarves like an exasperated teacher on a school trip. Will Bilbo find the adventure he longs for (and more than he planned) or will he realise it is not his scene and head back to his comfy Hobbit hole?

Bilbo surrounds himself with Dwarves to seem tall...
Sneaky Hobbit.

There is no way to avoid the obvious truth. Martin Freeman was a perfect choice to play the role of Bilbo Baggins. It is clear why he was Peter Jackson's first and foremost choice. Jackson even arranged the shooting schedule to fit around Freeman. He's perfectly sceptical of everything the dwarves and Gandalf do, and of the entire adventure, and it is balanced excellently with the temptation to do more and experience life. He is witty but so easy to relate to, he becomes an ideal protagonist for the film. Comic relief is provided, mostly, by all of the dwarves - too many to name individually - but especially Aidan Turner's Kili and Dean O'Gorman's Fili. Possibly the thickest of the dwarves but always deadly serious and trying to help, despite causing more problems than they stop. ('You don't want to eat them, they're infected!' 'We're not infected!') The more serious aspects are provided the dwarven leader, Thorin, who, through Armitage's portrayal, jumps around from being a harsh and tough leader to a character that will have you on the edge  as he faces death. Also, Sir Ian McKellen, reprising his role of Gandalf, takes a far lighter tone in The Hobbit. Constantly sighing and counting the dwarves as they get separated and forever being the optimist.

The first meeting of the Long Haired Club was a huge success

Technicality, as with the other Lord of the Rings films, is where this film prevails most. Not just in terms of technology, which is outstanding - just look at how even Gollum is of a higher standard - but also how incredibly shot the action is. Swirling cameras and long pans may not be to everyone's taste, but it really brings the audience into the film and convey's the chaos of fights. The soundtrack, of course, is fantastic and should be listened to whilst doing mundane activities to make everything seem awesome. The film only really suffers from one flaw, and unfortunately, it is a massive one. The pacing of the film is dreadful. The first half of the film drags and drags whereas the second half is incredible. Sure, the narrative in the first half is important, but the entire film could easily be cut down by an hour with no major loss. Even half an hour from the first half would make the majority of the film exciting and well paced rather than only half of it. Also, people in Middle Earth are made of something tough. The amount of deadly falls characters experience with a simple brushing off of the dust afterwards is ridiculous.

Apart from the pacing issues, The Hobbit is a well made film. Major fans of The Lord of the Rings will love it regardless as they get a fresh glimpse of Middle Earth and lesser fans will thoroughly enjoy the second half at least. Plus there's plenty of laughs for all the family. An enjoyable, if not long, watch. Bring on the trilogy.

Best Bit? Gollum and Bilbo's intense riddle battle. Not an action scene or anything similar, but an example of how the latter half of the film handles talking-based scenes with tension and dramatic suspense and makes it incredible watch-able, unlike the first half.

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