Does Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth match the magic seen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy? It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the release of The Fellowship of the Ring (even harder to believe since the returning characters from the LOTR trilogy don’t seem to have aged a day) but Peter Jackson doesn’t miss a beat with his latest Tolkien adaptation.
Starting immediately before the LOTR trilogy, we begin with Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) penning a letter to his nephew Frodo (reprised by Elijah Wood) detailing the story of Smaug the Dragon‘s siege upon the Dwarve’s home, and how he came to be part of a great adventure. The film takes a little longer to set the scene than Fellowship did, but the 40 odd minutes before they set off on their quest left me smiling from ear to ear, as it set the stage for what was to come. Introducing Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, whose house is crashed by a company of Dwarves (there are too many for me to name them all) and Ian McKellen‘s Gandalf, you immediately get the impression that this is a more light hearted affair than the previous trilogy (and rightly so since The Hobbit was a children’s book) but the humour never feels forced and is genuinely funny. Once the adventure begins it rarely let’s up and goes from action set piece to action set piece (other than the visit to Rivendale midway through), with so much action crammed into the film there was every possibility that the light hearted tone may be left by the way side, however thanks to a brilliant scene where some Trolls decide to eat the rag tag adventurers, as well as a brilliant reprisal of Gollum by Lord of the Rings alumni Andy Serkis, the smile barely left my face. Considering the film is almost 3 hours it absolutely flies by and leaves you wanting more, the biggest disappointment for me is having to wait a whole year for the next installment!
The film is absolutely stunning, and the decision to film in 48 frames per second was a fantastic choice as, other than a few scenes that felt slightly too fast, the film really looks unbelievably real. WETA have once again knocked the ball out of the park with their computer generated effects, however a few times I was left wondering why the Pale Great Troll needed to be CGI instead of prosthetics. As someone who isn’t a fan of the 3D trend I have to concede that it looked fabulous and was extremely unobtrusive, the darkness that 3D gives some films was nowhere to be seen and it really did enhance the viewing experience, can we a get a 3D conversion for Lord of the Rings now please!? The music, just like the previous trilogy, is utterly superb and compliments the tone of the movie perfectly, and elevates grand battles into unforgettable epics!
Martin Freeman puts in a truly wonderful shift as Bilbo Baggins, this was undoubtedly the role he was born to play, as he is stuffy, charming, bumbling and loveable all at once, and without a doubt the stand out star of the movie, although Andy Serkis’ return to the character that made him a household name, Gollum, does give him a run for his money, as the two share an amazingly funny yet emotional sequence together. The Dwarves do their job well, however with so many Dwarves it is unfortunately unavoidable that many of them end up being largely forgettable, stand outs include Kili (Aidan Turner) and Thorin Oakensheild (Richard Armitage) but this is almost entirely due to them having larger roles in which to showcase their talent. Ian McKellen brings the same commanding performance to the great wizard Gandalf that made him so unforgettable in Lord of the Rings.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is one of, if not the best, films of the year, and easily lives up to the legacy of The Lord of the Rings, easily matching The Fellowship of the Ring in quality. If the next two films are as good as An Unexpected Journey then The Hobbit Trilogy has every chance of surpassing The Lord of the Rings. If there is one film you absolutely have to see in the cinema this year this is it. Now excuse me whilst I go and watch Lord of the Rings on BluRay.