A little known kiwi filmmaker known primarily for his whimsical horror films pulled the rug from under Harry Potter's much hyped cinematic debut in 2001 and gave us the first part of J.R.R. Tolkien's much beloved 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, the rest they say is history. Now eleven years later, Jackson brings us back to Middle-Earth at a stage before the LOTR trilogy, some things remain the same, some things change.
Like in LOTR it all starts with a memoir of his journeys being written by an old but pre-LOTR Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holms) and the narrative then shifts to sixty years earlier where a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is shaken out of the comfort of his home in the shire by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) the wizard and gets embroiled in a quest to reclaim the once prosperous dwarfish kingdom at the base of the lonely mountain. At the base of the mountain lie cravens filled with gold guarded by a fierce fire breathing dragon called Smaug. Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) along with Gandalf leads his band of dwarves and Biblo on a perilous journey across Middle-Earth to reclaim what he rightfully believes is his by birth. Along the way the party encounter trolls, wargs (large wolves), goblins, orcs and Bilbo comes in contact with a foe familiar to LOTR fans, Gollum (Andy Serkis) to play a 'game of riddles' for his â€œpreciousâ€. The movie being the first in a trilogy runs its course, teasing at what will come next.
Nostalgia plays a strong part in 'The Hobbit' and Peter Jackson exploits it to the hilt, everything about the movie from the sets to the costumes to the background score makes you feel like you never left Middle-Earth. However if you observe closely everything is far more polished and why not considering the technological advances since the trilogy over the past decade. The movie however lacks a definite central antagonist despite the presence of at least three different characters, this is something 'Fellowship of the Ring (FOTR)' being the first also of a trilogy set up really well. Also the sense of imminent danger isn't quite as heavy as FOTR. A point being the group escaping a cave full of goblins much like their flight from the mines of Moria, but the sense of excitement pales in comparison to the former.
Gollum looks even more lifelike in this new avatar and Andy Serkis has him down to a pat. His scenes with Bilbo are quite the highlight of the film, though certain changes have been made from the prologue of 'FOTR' as to exactly how Bilbo gets his hands on the ring before playing the game with Gollum.
The prologue sequence with the attack on the lonely mountain by Smaug is easily the highlight along with a small sequence on the dwarfish attack to reclaim Moria. The rest though competently done aren't quite at the same level as the ones in FOTR. Balrog anyone? Still the pace never slackens in the movie despite its huge running length.
Armitage makes for a fine heroic central character with a deeply tortured past and I actually did root for him. Characterisation of the rest of the dwarves is sketchy at best and hopefully the coming parts will do them justice. Martin Freeman is quite good as Bilbo captures his characteristics perfectly. Ian McKellen is just as good as Gandalf and so are Ian Holms, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett in returning roles.
'The Hobbit' is a fine piece of filmmaking which could have done without the 3D. LOTR fans will enjoy it and so will newcomers, just need to have a bit of patience. Now I wait for the Director's Extended Cut to arrive on home video and of course for the sequel out at the end of next year.view less