The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The Hobbit part 1 is the latest in Peter Jackson‘s odyssey through the works of JRR Tolkein, having already completed the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It will be followed by two further sojourns to complete the filming of Tolkein’s book of the same name, en route presumably to the remainder of the prolific author’s outputs.

As a teenager I devoured the works, much as my daughter is doing now.  That said, I found that diminishing returns set in with the LotR trilogy.  It all became tiresome after a while, one battle after another with thousands of CGI orcs being slain, something that would be impossible to achieve by any other means.  By the end I really did not care what became of Frodo and co., though the very lengthy movies did stay very true to the script.

The Hobbit, by comparison, is the prequel to LotR, and was targeted far more towards children.  As such, the plot is easier to follow – no bad thing given the average attention span of movie audiences these days.  Even so, a lot happens in this very busy movie, and it’s still only a third of the way through the book; ironic, given that huge books are sometimes reduced to very slight movies by leaving out huge chunks.

A clever feature for which Jackson deserves credit is use of the same cast as LotR to create a level of continuity, thus allowing audiences who have seen LotR to latch on characters with whom they are already familiar.  Luckily, Ian McKellen, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Orlando BloomChristopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm and Cate Blanchett did not seem to need too much persuading to reprise their roles, but the richness of this movie is substantially increased through the addition of excellent actors in other roles.

I loved the quirky Sylvester McCoy playing the quirky Radagast the Brown, for example, Barry Humphries makes a stupendously evil (and obese) CGI Great Goblin, and Martin Freeman as the young Bilbo deserves a mention, as does the ultra-fashionable Benedict Cumberbatch (whose female followers are known as “Cumberbitches”, you will recall.)  The company of dwarves must not be forgotten either, for beneath the prosthetic make-up and prodigious wigs can be found the likes of  James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Billy Connolly and many more fine character actors.  This is one hell of a cast – even Stephen Fry gets a look-in!

The main aspect of translating any of these books to the big screen was bringing Middle Earth to life, which Jackson did with great success thanks to the spliced combination of the wild and rugged scenery of New Zealand (which country welcomed he and his cast and crew with open arms) and CGI effects.  LotR succeeded by creating painstaking levels of detail and scale, though thanks to ever-improving CGI and presumably exploring yet wilder parts of NZ, Jackson has made The Hobbit look even better.

The Blu-Ray version, with its high definition screen and enhanced sound, looks utterly ravishing – an enhanced version of reality because reality is presumably insufficiently ravishing on its own.  The depth and minute levels of detail are truly a wonder to behold.  If this movie does not get at least one Oscars for production design and/or cinematography I’ll eat somebody’s hat, if not my own.  Yes, the CGI scenes are still pretty obvious but I dare say the day will come when we can’t tell the difference between the two.  Maybe the day will come when we can dispense with real actors altogether, which sobering thought must be causing Equity to quake in its boots.

Best of all is the wonderful scene where the goblins are eating, then clearing up after supper – would that clearing up in real life were a job where you could hurl plates around without getting a single one chipped!

Jackson is at his best in big set pieces, each of which is thought through and planned with immense care.  Maybe he is at his weakest conveying subtlety of emotions in drama, but then the source material does tend towards the melodramatic in any case.  Pleasing though to see the extended game of riddles between Bilbo Baggins and Gollum, perhaps the only scene where emotions are fully played through, to the point where Gollum realises Bilbo has the ring – definitely a contrast to the more strident conflicts played out at regular intervals.

He is also restricted by the somewhat misogynistic nature of Tolkein’s writings of the warlike power politics of Middle Earth.  The only female character worthy of note is Lady Galadriel, and even then she is a bit token.  You might have hoped Jackson could have found ways to introduce a few more females, but as it is this is a war conducted between good and evil by male personas only.  Orcs are manufactured underground, so apparently there are no females in that species.  Female hobbits, humans, elves, goblins and other creatures contained herein are presumably left at home to procreate in Tolkein’s misogynistic imagination.

But that’s a bit picky.  This is a fine translation of a difficult raw material.  Go enjoy!

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