Well, here it is; where it all began. Peter Jackson’s long awaited adaptation of the origins of that ring and the blundering hobbit that found it is finally here. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, is the first in a trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 fantasy classic. It tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, just before we find him at the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. He is writing a letter of sorts to his nephew, Frodo, which consists of the adventures he had with Gandalf and an unlikely group of rambunctious dwarves 60 years previously. Gandalf initially approaches Bilbo to join them in the role of their burglar, in a quest to The Lonely Mountain to reclaim their treasure stolen by the dragon, Smaug. He is reluctant to leave his comfortable home in The Shire, to say the least. He soon comes to his senses, however, and so this fantastical tale of bravery and stepping beyond one’s comfort zone begins.
It is the story – the building of the world in which these creatures reside – that captivated me and made this film an enjoyable experience. Martin freeman is absolutely fantastic as the wonderfully bewildered, hilariously high maintenance Bilbo Baggins. Ian McKellen again excels in his role of Gandalf. The ‘new’ characters are also a delight, the dwarves are a boisterous bunch who never fail to entertain in a slapstick sort of way that is quite unlike what we’re used to seeing from our film expositions of middle Earth. Their hyperactivity can be a little grating at times, especially when their foes seem to be just as silly as our protagonists, which is one of the film’s failings.
The narrative isn’t perfect. The combination of humour and the darker elements of the story are not well balanced, sometimes throwing off the intended tone of a particular scene. The narrative is also episodic in nature which brings a component of repetitiveness to the whole affair. Some scenes didn’t really need to be there. That said, despite the film’s running time, it never feels overly long or drawn out.
I was lucky enough to see the film in Cineworld’s new IMAX screen and unsurprisingly it really did prove to be a treat for the senses. The technology is successful in terms of immersing the viewer in the fantasy world of The Shire. It seems that no stone was left unturned with regards to making the film as technically modern as possible. Though, that didn’t always turn out to necessarily be a good thing. The combination of 3D and IMAX is difficult to get used to at first, and left me a little dizzy, having to look away at several intervals. Although this desisted as the film progressed, the dizziness returned at instances of particularly action-filled sequences. Furthermore, at these moments it can be slightly difficult to grasp what is happening on the screen; in short, it can all be a bit much. The 3D wasn’t really in anyway spectacular. Like most films that utilise the technology, it doesn’t really add anything of substance to the story or to the enjoyment of the film; its presence again proves to be nothing more than a pointless novelty.
Comparisons to The Lord of the Rings trilogy are inevitable, and I think a little unfair. The Hobbit was never going to conjure up the same sort of magic and critical acclaim as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, nevertheless as a standalone film, despite its flaws, The Hobbit is an engaging and magical piece of cinema that remains compelling throughout.