Movie review – Return to Middle-earth

2012-12-16 10:00

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Film: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Nu Metro)

Director: Peter Jackson

Featuring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, James Nesbitt, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Andy Serkis

Rating: 8/10

A hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sits at his desk writing his memoirs. It’s the day of his birthday party and he’s adding the final flourish. He sends his nephew, Frodo, off to check on the party arrangements and then we all go back 60 years in time to when Bilbo was young and invited on an unexpected journey by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan).

Peter Jackson takes us all back to Middle-earth and I couldn’t be happier. It was a whopping nine years ago that the final film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy was released, so it’s not like Jackson’s rushed to jump on the Oscar and box office bandwagon.

Sure, turning the slim children’s volume, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, into a trio of films seems to stretch things, but I understand the reasoning.

It’s the lure of showing off another slice of life in this magical place.

Jackson says: “We want these movies to work as a linear story line and feel like they belong at the beginning of the other three movies. I wanted everything to feel like we’d gone back on location into Middle-earth to tell another story, a different part of that epic mythology.”

Jackson had at his disposal not only the 1937 book, but 125 pages of appendices at the back of The Lord of the Rings that offer a back story to Tolkien’s imagined world. These stories have been incorporated into this next Middle-earth project that began as a two-part film and ended up being another three-parter.

Jackson’s co-producer, Fran Walsh, says: “The Hobbit is much more playful than The Lord of the Rings. We always saw it as a slightly more golden-lighted fairy tale and it was written as that. But by the time we get to the end, I think Tolkien pulls himself into the place where he would begin that epic journey of writing The Lord of the Rings.

“The nature of honour and leadership and power – those big themes that are quite prevalent in The Lord of the Rings – were sleeping and being awakened towards the end of The Hobbit.”

Jackson sets the scene slowly. After all, he’s got three films in which to tell this story. Bilbo (Martin Freeman) sits on his porch smoking his pipe when Gandalf arrives. Then it’s one dwarf after another as a company of travelling companions is again put together for an adventure.

The difference is that this lot are all dwarfs, though most are big, tall men in real life made short by Jackson’s wizardry behind the lens.

With a combination of blue screen, green screen, camera skulduggery and other tricks, Jackson makes Gandalf’s head bump the roof of Bilbo’s hobbit hole, while the dwarfs and Bilbo move around comfortably.

The trolls are rather fun, huge, clumsy and repulsive, but the glimpses of Smaug, the dragon, will keep us geeks coming back. The dragon, central to the reason for the journey, is seen only in glimpses as a teaser for continuing this cinematic journey.

Most of the story is lost in the mists of my memory as I last read The Hobbit when I was 10, so I was surprised by how much action there is. There are the trolls, of course; the finding of Bilbo’s famous Elfin sword; the visit to Rivendell; the run-in with the goblins; and of course a much more complete introduction to Radagast the Brown.

Jackson has also integrated all the familiar faces – elfin and other – into the story. So, when finally we can see all six films in one sitting,

it will be like a seamless 18 to 20 hours in Middle-earth.

While Middle-earth remains as breathtakingly beautiful as ever, Jackson’s been sure to include a hero to rival Ranger. Picking up the cute factor and swashbuckling where Viggo Mortensen left off is Richard Armitage as Thorin, the dwarf prince heading the expedition to take back the Lonely Mountain invaded by Smaug.

Off set, TV buffs will remember him from British series Strike Back and Robin Hood.

Jackson has remained true to his team and the skills set that garnered him 17 Oscars almost a decade ago, and he’s added the very latest in film making technology too. This is a cinematic experience you don’t want to miss this year, especially if you’ve yearned for Middle-earth as much as I have.

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