Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
2012/ USA, New Zealand
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sylvester McCoy, James Nesbitt, Aiden Turner, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis
FILM OF THE MONTH DECEMBER 2012
A process of time travel was enacted upon me when I sat down to view this film. When I entered the cinema I was 22 years old, tired from a day at work and rather skeptical about returning to a franchise that I fell in love with when I was a child, ten years a go. Then the New Line Cinema logo appeared… the first bars of music washed over me and then there was Bilbo Baggins and that was all it took… I was eleven years old again.
I must add that this context is actually in place to make a point, for I was worried that Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth would fail to register with me now that I’m a grown up and all but this was not the case… when it comes to Middle Earth I’ll never change my mind it seems. When I was eleven I went into the cinema to see ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring‘ totally ignorant of the world of Middle Earth, I’d never touched a J.R.R Tolkien book, ten years on and I’ve consumed everything the man has ever written through the Silmarillion to the Adventures of Tom Bombadil and watched all the assembled hours of extra DVD footage from the extended LOTR extended box sets I am now a Tolkien nerd and that will never change. So when Peter Jackson announced he’d be splitting The Hobbit into a trilogy as opposed to a double feature I like many others failed to see how this could be done. Jackson makes a big deal these days about the famed ‘appendices’ which Tolkien added to the LOTR to link The Hobbit into his grand trilogy. Might I add that these are not secret documents only available to Jackson, you can all read them in selected editions of the books… they are out there and I implore you all to give them a glance over. Having read them myself I was still at an odds as to how this could warrant three entire films… but yet again I underestimated Jackson’s abilities when it comes to adapting Tolkien… he has done a marvelous job before and an even better one this time round.
For those not brushed up on The Hobbit let’s re-cap the plot:
The film centers around Hobbit Bilbo Baggins who is rather content at sitting in his Hobbit hole at Bag End and enjoying all the home comforts that The Shire provides. Until one day when a figure from his past, the mysterious Gandalf The Grey, a Wizard, turns up on his door step and offers him a part in an adventure. Although initially resistant after his house is taken over by a rabble of Dwarves Bilbo eventually succumbs to temptation and joins the Dwarves on their quest. Their mission, to return to their home land of Erebor, the city under the mountain, to reclaim it from the evil dragon, Smaug, that drove the Dwarves from Erebor in the first place and cast the Dwarf race into the wilderness. Along the way they counter all sorts of evil and wonder including three moutain trolls, the Goblin King, the Pale Orc Azog and a little creature known to many as Gollum.
Much work has been done to remind us that The Hobbit’s events play out on a larger canvas amidst the resurgence of Sauron and the beginning of the war for the ring of power. The riddles in the dark scene between Gollum and Bilbo holds much more gravitas for we know just exactly what that ring is and symbolises. The story line that follows Radagast The Brown (McCoy) another wizard who stumbles upon the Necromancer or as we know it to be the awakening spirit of Sauron, is used to keep us aware that other events are taking place during the film. Bilbo’s adventure is synonymous with the beginning of the evil days we witness in the LOTR. We then have the council with Gandalf, Saruman, Elrond and Galadriel which again hints at whats to come.
To the cast:
Martin Freeman was simply the best choice for Bilbo and gives what must be his career defining moment to date. He’s no stranger to literary adaptations having given life to Arthur Dent from Douglas Adam’s ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ and most recently as Watson in the TV adaptation of Sherlock Holmes. For those of you who were irritated by a rather whiney Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins, Bilbo offers us a braver, funnier and more appealing protagonist. He is our every man placed into a strange world, our entry to the fantastical events and we yearn for him to join the Dwarves in helping to reclaim Erebor.
Ian McKellen is as usual, excellent as Gandalf. Gandalf gets quite a few show stopping moments as he is constantly tasked with saving the group of Dwarves from danger. Particularly when they are about to be eaten by trolls and tortured in the Goblin king’s throne room. McKellen’s appetite for the character never faltered and when talk was of casting a new Gandalf he immediately made sure that the role belonged to him and no one else.
Richard Armitage is superb as Thorin Oakenshield the descendant to the throne of Erebor and true King under the mountain. He is very much akin to Aragorn in that the weight of royalty and leadership rests on his head yet he is bound by his fate and cannot delay in returning to claim his throne.
The rest of the Dwarves are all portrayed excellently but due to their large number others get more screen time whilst some are left as background parts. Ken Stott’s Balin features heavily early on and is a character weighed down by fate and anguish but we lose track of him towards the end and don’t really see him until the final scene. Dwalin (McTavish) is a hilarious brawler come warrior who provides laughs through his array of excellent headbutts landed on Goblin heads. James Nesbitt as Bofur provides some comical element and Aiden Turner as Kili does a very good Legolas stand in. All in all though as a collective the Dwarves are funny and rag tag but we need to see more from them as individuals across the next two films. Bombur in fact could be hilarious but he doesn’t actually have any lines of note in this film.
To the cinematography:
My main quarrel when reading about this film’s production was the reliance on CGI landscapes and the move into 3D. I resisted paying to watch the film in 3D as I hate the format. The beauty of LOTR was placing the actors against the very real backdrop of the New Zealand wilderness, it made the films feel very real. From the off in this film we are presented with layers upon layers of computer generated images. The kingdom of Erebor could not have been imagined any other way and the battle at the gates of Erebor where Thorin fights Azog looked phenomenal but why change the look of The Shire and Rivendell at the expense of 3D film making. The effects in this film are extremely good but they seem to have been used because they were available and not because they were needed. Also watching the film in 2D causes them to be rather blurred, I found the escape sequence from Goblin town hard to watch like I was squinting through a fog to see the action. I caught glimpses but the scenes didn’t ring out crystal clear like they should have. Then again The Hobbit was a book for children and not one weighed down by the foreboding nature of the ring. That is present indeed yet Jackson notes that stylistically they are different hence the visual difference. The Hobbit as a book is permeated with more humour, a larger abundance of amazing creatures such as dragons, stone giants and human/ bear hybrids and a more innocent nature. The realm of Middle Earth in The Hobbit is one that has been at peace for 400 years, in Frodo’s time is a world that is slowly dying. The old creatures of the world have perished or deserted and the landscape’s are baron and dark. So we can see why Jackson offers us a different eye on Middle Earth. It’s just a shame in parts that it could not have been imagined in any other way.
Guilhermo Del Toro’s stamp is still evident on the film as well throughout it’s course. Little things like the blacksmith’s hammer in Erebor, or the Elk ridden by the Elf king Thranduil or even Balin’s spy glass all have his visual coda upon them. The pale orc Azog looks like something that could very well fit into ‘Pans Labyrinth’ or even the ‘Hellboy’ universe. His initial proposed role of director having not gone amiss this film owes a lot to him visually.
To round off though let’s talk about the positives that we get from The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey. Returning to Middle Earth will never be a bad thing, the rich nature of the world and characters will always provide us with enough material to satisfy our need for Dwarves, Elves and Wizards. Tolkien knew how to pen a good epic and did so an a first attempt with this being his first book. Whilst the inclusion of the LOTR thread throughout the film is a nice reminder it does feel like Jackson trying to cash in on his previous trilogy rather than trying to tell a good story. As a Tolkien fan though I can’t wait to see what Gandalf and Radagast unearth at Dol Guldor and in that fact alone I’m a hypocrite. All in all I think Jackson could have stuck with two films. The adventures of Bilbo and the Dwarves make for a compelling story without additional material. We are taken along on their adventure and crave to return to it when our eye is guided elsewhere. It is with them that we laugh, cry and rejoice as they scrape and fight their way through whatever evil is thrown at them. Bilbo Baggins morphs from a homely Hobbit to a warrior throughout the film, claiming a magic ring and saving Thorin’s life at the hands of Azog. Whatever happens next and whatever Jackson contrives from the back pages of Tolkien’s writing we will always come back to Middle Earth for the beauty of the story and if the name Baggins is involved.