Thursday night is radio night for me, as I help out new presenters on the ball-achingly awful school show on our local community station. This involves sitting in a warm studio with egg boxes on the walls for an hour and a half with two younger girls and a friend if I'm lucky. At this time of year, however, any warmth is to be appreciated, and often the chat is vaguely good when the microphones are off. There was an atmosphere of anticipation in the room that evening as well, as earlier in the day we had booked tickets to see Peter Jackson's new epic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, for that evening, the day it came out.
The rather awkward time of the radio show meant that the only showing I could make was the 9pm one in 3D, so me, my sister and my friends Michael and Paul went straight from the studio to Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh to catch it. The hype for this film has been astounding. Apparently, the film underworld has been muttering about it for years, and by the time the premiere came around, people were giddy with expectation. The cast is very impressive, with a number of British actors you thought would remain doing dramas for ITV as well as some wonderful reappearances of actors from Jackson's original Lord of the Rings trilogy. The Hobbit would always have this weight on its proverbial shoulders, with many fans who will be dreadfully disappointed if this trilogy does not live up to the quite astounding heights of those seminal films.
However, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are two completely different books. The Hobbit, Tolkein's first novel, was written for children and therefore is relatively short, with quite a simple plot and likable characters. The Lord of the Rings, however, is a true saga. It has an immensely complicated and twisted plot, more characters than you can shake a staff at and, when the three books are put together, it is one of the longest popular books ever written. It is for this reason that many were confused by Jackson's logic when he decided to make The Hobbit into a trilogy. This decision meant that each three hour film would deal with roughly just 100 pages of book. Jackson's decision was to stretch out minor parts of the novel in meticulous detail and, where acceptable, adding in extra parts the novel doesn't mention. One of these is the inclusion of the ogre Azog, who is only mentioned briefly in the book but is included in the film as the main antagonist, following Bilbo, Gandalf and the company of dwarves on much of their journey towards the Lonely Mountain, former home of the dwarves and now occupied by an enormous, treasure-hoarding dragon named Smaug.
The characters are charming. The dwarves are great fun, even if they have a habit of breaking into song unfortunately reminiscent of the Oompa-Loompas. Richard Armitage does take the role a bit seriously, and could have benefitted from not being so dramatic, but he fits well into his character. Ken Stott is wonderful as Balin, the oldest, wisest and most cautious of the dwarves. Ian McKellen, of course, leaves you wondering if there is anyone else on Earth who could have played Gandalf. He is kind, quiet but gently powerful, and works the role just as brilliantly as he did in the LOTR films. The true gem of casting in this film, however, is Martin Freeman in the main role of Bilbo Baggins. He is superb. Viewers in the UK recognise him from the fantastic Sherlock on the BBC, and his role as Tim in The Office. You can see the skills honed from years of sitcoms in his performance, the subtle changes in facial expression and voice tone which show you why Peter Jackson was so desperate to get him.
You really should see it in 3D. There are certain sequences in the film which are well worth the extra bit of money on the ticket. One sequence in particular, where Bilbo and company fly over the Middle Earth landscape on the back of giant eagles, can only be described as spectacular, and Rivendell looks absolutely wonderful in 3D. Where many just use it as a gimmick, with bullets and organs flying towards you at any opportunity, Jackson uses it as part of the story, and it immerses you.
The Hobbit never was going to live up to the reputation of The Lord of the Rings, just like it is unlikely that any other fantasy movie trilogy will. It remains to be seen how the sequels play out, but I remain positive about them and I'll certainly be going to have a look when they are released.
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