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Fantasy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
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The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Genre Fantasy

Bloemfontein born author, J.R.R. Tolkien, would have been very proud of Peter Jackson if he was still with us today. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, undoubtedly the greatest trilogy of all-time, has a special place in most people's hearts and movie collections and is the new standard by which all fantasy adventures will be judged, until bettered.

Adapting The Hobbit was second prize for Jackson, who almost didn't direct Tolkien's other classic. Although, it seemed almost irreverent for Jackson not to direct another chapter from the Middle Earth world he so lovingly created. While Guillermo del Toro was a poor man's Jackson, fate ultimately brought Jackson back for "secondsies".

Much criticism has been leveled at Jackson, after the decision to shoot in 3D and to turn the single film event into three parts, came about. While ambitious, it's a smart financial move if you're wielding a fan base as proud and loyal as that of The Lord of the Rings and have already undertaken a trilogy of that scale once before.

As much as we'd want to squeeze more Middle Earth into the middle, this decision has repercussions, which are ironically expected. At three hours per chapter... you're going to have to let the belt out a few notches. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has taken J.R.R. Tolkien's majestic story and stretched it over the Fellowship of the Ring mold with a couple of tweaks here and there.

This entrenches us in the same universe of The Lord of the Rings, bringing an echo of familiarity in the setting, the characters, the enemies and the dangers of undertaking such a journey. We move from the comforts of the Shire along a similar path with an unscrupulous band of heroes, over mountain passes, through forests and across valleys encountering the usual band of orcs, trolls and goblins.

The lead character dictates the tone for the adventure. In Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Elijah Wood gave the epic fantasy an earnest intensity that permeated through the trilogy. This overtone added to the gravity of his quest, made every setback count double and allowed a heavier, darker and sombre cloud to settle over Middle Earth. Frodo's personal conflict with the ring added an intimate dimension to the plight of our hero, which was counterbalanced by sweeping landscapes and magical conquests along the way.

In The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Martin Freeman sets the tone. While we're greeted with the same beautiful visuals, epic landscapes and narrow escapes - The Hobbit has a lighter tone. Peter Jackson has staggered the quest to inject some levity to the adventure. While this gives the adventure it's own spirit, it also lessens the dark mood and overwhelming heaviness of its predecessors. The comedy is surprising and catches one off-guard with some odd real world references, including a homage to The Three Stooges.

Ian McKellen's performance as Gandalf really anchors An Unexpected Journey by carrying the pulse of The Lord of the Rings. He is Gandalf, knowingly providing a sense of continuity to the series by seamlessly taking on the role of Gandalf as though The Hobbit was filmed on the back of the Lord of the Rings. While Martin Freeman's role changes the tone, he is more than up to the task of playing Bilbo, almost surprising himself with how well he fits into Middle Earth.

Richard Armitage plays Thorin with great conviction, although comparisons with Viggo Mortensen's Aragon, would be unfair. The rest of the dwarf collective do well enough with their share of the screen time, intermittently threading iconic characters from The Lord of the Rings into the adventure to bind the old with the new. Andy Serkis reprises his role as Gollum, using his personalities to greater comedic effect as a comic and a foil.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey fits quite seamlessly into Middle Earth. The production values and New Zealand landscapes resonate with the original trilogy.The performances are generally strong, carried forth by Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen. The make up and special effects are excellent, taking a page from the original to give weight, dimension and presence to the unreal without tipping the apple cart.

However, there's a "been there and done that" feeling to the story, which is bloated by deliberately stretching scenes to make it seem like they skipped the theatrical version and released the extended edition. While the comedic slant gives The Hobbit it's own sense of identity, the humour is off-beat and blunts the blade, making Bilbo's quest seem more inevitable than unexpected.

Lord of the Rings fans will soak up the atmosphere with a sense of being a part of the action, while others will find the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be languishing - like getting lost on purpose. Measuring up to the greatest epic fantasy-adventure trilogy of all-time is always going to be difficult and while brilliant at staying true to Middle Earth, this reinvention is found wanting...

The bottom line: Expected

8.50/10 ( 2 Votes )
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