Of course, it should have been called The Hobbit: An Unexpected Trilogy.
Whether you think Peter Jackson is justified in turning Tolkien’s book (and LOTR appendices) into a three picture deal will probably determine how you take the first 169 minutes of the journey. His latest Middle Earth sortie is at times dazzling to look at but, despite all its computer wizardry, it suffers from been-there-done-that syndrome.
In Bruges aside, there are only so many things a band of plucky dwarves can do that will surprise viewers of previous epics.
This particular quest takes place 60 years prior to Frodo and Sauron’s ring-related ding-dong. The Bilbo Baggins of Ian Holm age looks back on his earlier days of reluctant adventure, when he was played by Martin Freeman.
The central thrust here: when a band of 13 warrior dwarves come knocking at Bilbo’s home in the Shire and ask him to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, he doesn’t feel up to the task despite having ‘skills at conkers’. Freeman is good casting, the slow double-take and slight kvetch of the quintessential Englishman suits Bilbo to a tee.
An unexpected frame rate
The action itself is available in a higher frame-rate of 3D presentation than previously seen in cinemas (though common in video games) – 48 frames a second instead of 24. Should you be excited by that? Well, it does two things. One, it enables lots of swishing, running and camera panning to happen in huge detail, without some of the ghosting seen in Avatar. So, more stable 3D.
Unfortunately, it also feels like the film has been sped up, certainly in the first 20 minutes while you are getting used to it. This was certainly the case to my eyes and others have also been talking about a ‘Benny Hill’ effect that may almost have been appropriate in early dwarf-related comedy scenes. It was jarring though and so it detracts.
It is a new tool that feels a touch uncanny in its first big outing. But it is just a technique after all; if the only thing people talked about after Skyfall was Roger Deakin’s cinematography, you’d know something wasn’t right.
One character they have improved since we last saw him is Gollum, again voiced and embodied in mo-cap by Andy Serkis. The visualisation of his ugly physog is even sharper and lends an even greater sense of verisimilitude to a fantasy creation.
Despite the ever wonderful Sir Ian McKellen, returning as Gandalf the Grey and the enunciation of the (seemingly) immortal Sir Christopher Lee, The Hobbit: TUJ lacks the dynamism and character of the earlier films. It is like the most insanely detailed video game you will ever watch for nearly three hours. The stretched out narrative and details from the source material may please die hards, but for the rest of us: it is just a little bit average.