Published Thursday, 13 December 2012
The biggest and longest movie of the year finally opens across the planet, Oscar winning director Peter Jackson's spectacular The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. This is the lengthy first part of a blockbuster trilogy, adapting author J.R.R. Tolkien's beloved 1937 children's book.
But if The Hobbit is only a relatively short story, a modest three hundred pages, why is this movie so long? The end credits alone last an incredible 16 minutes. How can the six slim chapters filmed here, bulge into nearly three hours on screen? And will this lofty running time only appeal to the die-hard fans?
Set sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, this adventure follows unlikely hero Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman) on an epic quest to reclaim the lost dwarf kingdom of Erebor from the evil dragon Smaug.
Unexpectedly recruited by the mighty wizard Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellan), Bilbo finds himself joining a merry band of thirteen dwarves, led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Their mission takes them into the Wild; through treacherous lands swarming with goblins and orcs, deadly wargs and giant spiders, shape shifters and sorcerers.
"Why Bilbo Baggins?" Gandalf explains the presence of his mini apprentice "Perhaps it is because I'm afraid, and he gives me courage." All of this has a familiar ring to it, especially as Gandalf and a Baggins from Bag End encounter Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) again, Saruman (Christopher Lee) again and Gollum (Andy Serkis) again. But this is Lord Of The Rings lite; more frivolous than fearsome, fairground ride than fairy tale.
Martin Freeman excels as the title character, bringing a refreshing comic touch to the likeable little man with the courageous big heart. James Nesbitt, complete with Ulster brogue, also delivers a humorous turn as jolly dwarf Bofur. Ironic of course, that Nesbitt in his first gigantic movie has a pocket-sized part.
But the long and the short of it is The Hobbit is simply too lanky a kickoff. Any compelling quest should hit the road running, not spend the first fifty minutes un-sucking diesel. What director Peter Jackson needs for Christmas is a good pair of scissors. The Hobbit begins totally unnecessarily with Elijah Wood reprising Frodo and Ian Holm padding scenes as the elder Bilbo.
Financial cynicism aside, surely the whole point of splitting the novel into three is to make a trilogy of perfect parts? The opening film should leave you wanting more. What I was left with was two dead legs and a pair of 3D weary watery eyes. Watching The Hobbit was an unexpected endurance test. Younger children will not last the pace, but plucky ten year olds with a couple of well timed toilet breaks will lap this up.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey 3D (Cert 12a) is now on general release.