The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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The entire world will have seen this one by now, so I’ll probably keep the review quite brief. Following on from the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson returns with the “prequel”.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

“I’m looking for someone to share in an adventure.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: the beginnings of the LotR story, with lashings of dwarf-related humour

See it if you like: deep, expansive, spectacular fantasy

I read The Hobbit when I was about 11 years old, so don’t expect any comparisons to the original text. For the record, I’m now 39 (my birthday was the UK release date for the film!) and my memory rarely stretches past last week, let alone nearly three decades. Reading up on the trivia via IMDB, it’s clear that Jackons has been slightly free with the adaptation as he was with the first trilogy. Some characters are in the film that weren’t in the book, some don’t appear, some bits are jiggled around slightly… In fairness, he did a good job before and the changes – which may have upset purists – helped the story spread more evenly across the films.

Indeed, one of the first tweaks appears at the very beginning where Frodo is seen pestering his uncle Bilbo. Frodo isn’t in The Hobbit at all, but this scene is purely to link the previous trilogy with this precursor.

But what of the rest of the film?

Well, my overall opinion was that it was like a kiddie-friendly version of its big brother. Which, in fairness, is how the books work out. The violence is far less bloody, the plot a little simpler and – dare I risk the wrath? – the effects not as good as the LotR trilogy.

Yes, there are scary monsters and there are a few be-headings here and there… but there’s little (if any) blood. Swords slash and stab, yet come out clean every time. Things move forward more quickly from action scene to action scene with less (though some) time spent in serious conversation. In fairness, the actual start of the film is slow.

As for those effects… well, maybe it’s just the scale of them but they look that bit more cartoony than what we’re used to. They’re still damn impressive, but the slapstick humour dial has been turned up a notch as well making it all a little more child-friendly.

The acting is superb, right across the board. Martin Freeman is a great younger Bilbo, but as ever it’s the older actors who steal every scene they’re in. Christopher Lee (yes, I know, Saruman wasn’t in the book but he’s in the film briefly) and Ian McKellen as Gandalf are both utterly superb. Andy Serkis returns for Gollum‘s “first” appearance (and then went on to become second unit director for the rest of the filming), and in this instance I would say that the effects have been pushed to their absolute limits. Gollum’s facial expressions are mesmerising.

The dwarves are a hearty bunch with a wide array of acting talent thrown about to make up the motley crew, though in honesty when looking down the cast the only name I recognise immediately is James Nesbitt. Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett complete the links to the “big brother” trilogy with their appearances as Elrond and Galadriel – neither of whom, again, are in the book.

Sylvester McCoy, however, turns the tables by playing Radagast the Brown. This time a character who appeared in the LotR books, but didn’t make it into the films. He’s been transplanted to play a part in this one instead, as a slightly bonkers hermit.

All are great performances, including those who – like Serkis – are portrayed almost completely as CGI characters. It may amuse some to realise that one of the the Goblin King’s alter-egos is a flamboyant cross-dresser who calls her fans “possums”…

In short (ha! short! *ahem*), is it as good or as impressive as, say, The Fellowship of the Ring? No.

Is it worth seeing? Yes.

The simple fact is that Jackson’s LotR films will stand pretty much untouched in their stature for many, many years to come. They were something incredible, something impressive. Something people thought was impossible. The technology used for the effects floored you. But in the years that have come since, such digital trickery has become commonplace and – sadly – that takes a shine off The Hobbit. Good though it is – and it’s bloody good – it’s just not as jaw-dropping or impressive.

Oh, and I saw the film in regular 2D. No eye-aching, headache-inducing 3D. No migraine-causing 48fps. Just proper, 24fps flat images. And it was fine.

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The Wolfman

Plot-in-a-nutshell: It’s a werewolf film. What more do you need? Look at the flipping title!

The Wolfman is how you do a remake of a classic horror. Lon Chaney Jr would be proud as the traditional old tale has been given a modern-day budget, but thankfully is still set in Olde Englande.

Benicio del Toro plays a young (ish – he’s starting to get a bit wrinkly) man, summoned back to England from America when his brother’s body is found dead in a ditch. Rumours abound that the killing was done by a wild beast, the third in recent months. Blame falls partly on a group of gypsies (it’s not politically incorrect if it’s the 19th century) and then on the Talbot family.

The film has all you need for a romp of that era: pitchfork wielding locals, a screaming priest, a policeman from London town (Hugo Weaving – superb) who doesn’t fit in with the country folk… I also have to mention Anthony Hopkins just because he’s fantastic.

Oh, and great effects. American Werewolf in London can still hold its head high for the makeup and animatronics they used, but The Wolfman is the modern equivalent. The transformations are seemless and bloody, suitably horrific.

Some of the images that stick in the mind really hark back to the old Universal films, such as the werewolf clad in torn period clothing. A real homage without being a simple remake.

There’s a good mixture of tense, jumpy moments with outright hack and slash horror, too. It’s a fairly simple story, well told and fitting its running length perfectly.

If you like a “proper” horror movie, then this is definitely recommended.

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