Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett
Director: Peter Jackson
The latest instalment in director-producer-screenwriter Peter Jackson's exploration of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien is a mixed affair. Sprightlier than the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, something that's in keeping with the deft style of the source novel, it's enjoyable in a rambunctious, buckle-your-seatbelt way.
But much of the lilting magic that pervades the book has been sacrificed to make way for an amended plot that emphasises mayhem and action. What's more, the 3-D film was made using a new technique that boosts the frame rate of film cameras from 24 frames per second to 48 frames per second. The result is a razor-sharp image that may not be to everyone's liking.
First published in 1937, The Hobbit introduced readers to Middle Earth, the world of The Lord of the Rings, and laid the foundations for the trilogy that followed. But it's also a charming work in its own right. Like Rings, it's a quest, this time undertaken by Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a genial hobbit who is chosen by wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help some wandering dwarves reclaim their mountain home from a dragon.
As Bilbo makes his way through towards the dragon's lair, he encounters places like the elvish Rivendell and creatures like the popular Gollum. As the quest progresses, it becomes evident that all is not well in Middle Earth: a dark shadow has fallen upon it.
It's churlish to complain about the changes Jackson and main screenwriters Philippa Boyens and Fran Walsh have made in the name of dramatic structure and continuity. Tolkien's original story is episodic in an Odyssean manner, and the screenplay also has to dovetail with events in the later films. But Tolkien purists may be disappointed when Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) turns up in the opening scene, and the ethereal Galadriel (a radiant Cate Blanchett) appears at Rivendell. Neither events are in the book. Jackson has also split the novel into three parts, to form another film trilogy.
The many maniacal battle scenes remind one as much of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome as Lord of the Rings. There was fighting in The Hobbit book, which drew its inspiration from warlike Anglo-Saxon and Norse mythology. But the beauty of the novel is how it gently reveals the magical wonders of Middle Earth to the reader. By contrast, the film viewer feels bludgeoned by blood-crazed orcs, flabby goblins, and all manner of vicious animals.
The action is well-served by the 3-D effects, which are fairly immersive, and contain a variety of surprises. But the High Frame Rate (HFR) 3-D technology is not wholly successful. The increased frame rate is trumpeted as bringing greater realism to the screen - it's meant to represent how we see things in real life. But the images are a bit ugly, and don't have the soft silvery sheen of projected light and its digital equivalent.
Perhaps the best way to enjoy The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is to buckle-up, put Tolkien's work and Jackson's three previous adaptations to the back of the mind, and enjoy the action.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey opens today