Saturday 12 July 2014

Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

I have refrained from watching the first part of The Hobbit until now, since I don't like waiting a whole year between episodes – I forget too much of what happened. I plan to watch Part 2 in the autumn and if possible see the finale in a cinema on its release next winter.

I was a huge fan of Tolkien's work in the 1960s, reading The Hobbit and then The Lord of the Rings for the first time when aged 11 or 12, then reading both stories every year for the next decade, during which time they achieved cult status. I haven't read either of them since, so my memories of the books are over forty years old. I did see the films of LOTR, which I much enjoyed, and plan to watch the extended versions after seeing the finale of The Hobbit.

Although I recalled the general plot outline of The Hobbit well enough most of the details were fuzzy, so you needn't expect a nerdish analysis of how faithful the film is to the book.  The production is superb and the film of high quality throughout, which is no more than I expected from Peter Jackson. Martin Freeman is excellent in the title role of the comfortable, middle-aged hobbit reluctantly persuaded into go on a dangerous adventure with a wizard and a bunch of pugnacious dwarves. The film is a visual feast and has a great deal to enjoy. I liked the restraint shown in building up the suspense concerning the dragon Smaug, only shown partly, in brief glimpses.

In some respects – its visual richness and quality, and the relatively leisurely pace – I was reminded of Game of Thrones. However, while the long running time of both productions allows plenty of opportunity to tell the tales, in both cases there is perhaps too much time. I stopped watching GoT at the end of Season 3, partly because I found the story too relentlessly depressing, but partly because of its lack of pace: I accidentally missed one of the episodes and didn't even realise that until much later, since it had barely moved the plot forward at all. Unlike LOTR, in which 1,000 pages of novel were crammed into nine hours of filming, The Hobbit is a simple tale of well under 300 pages yet is stretched over a similar running time. One of the consequences is that some of the scenes are too extended. By the end, I did get tired of the endless running battles with Orcs and Wargs, and feel that the film would have been better for some judicious editing to reduce its length. However, I am still looking forward to the next episode.


Fred said...

I am going to wait for all three to come out and then view them within a reasonable length of time.

I know some people who have seen the second part, and they all remarked that the second part is mostly filler.

But then again, as you point out, three films for the complete LoTR and three films for the much shorter Hobbit doesn't make sense.

Of course, s three-parter will increase the profit by 50% if all three do equally well.

Anthony G Williams said...

Indeed, profit is the main motivation in most big-budget film making. Not a bad thing in principle, but a shame when it leads to quantity rather than quality being given priority.