Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit

So it seems that increasingly any sort of commentary on a movie needs to be prefaced by a disclaimer of technical information relating the format that we watched the film in. So with that in mind, we went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey this week, and we saw it in 2D, 24FPS, non-IMAX, digitally projected, standard seating and no popcorn format. There is a whole post in how ridiculous this is getting, but for now let us say that I saw this in "normal" cinematic format, so I can't comment on anything other than, y'know, the content of the movie. Which lets be honest, is how it should be!

Anyway, the film.

When they announced that The Hobbit was going to be two movies, the fear was that this was going to stretch out a fairly short, simple kids book into something longer than it would support, padded out with bits of the various Unfinished Tales set at about the same sort of time. And then, we were told that it was three movies, because there was just so much to show, and that fear turned into a sense that perhaps this is more about milking the franchise than a genuine desire to tell a story at its natural length. So I think the good news is that An Unexpected Journey feels like a film with genuine intent to tell the whole story at a length it needs to be, but the bad news is that it's still to damn long.

Remember how the Lord of the Rings films got extended editions, with loads of extra stuff that added backstory and cut sub-plots, that are pretty cool, but don't add much over the more disciplined standard editions, unless you're a completest? Well, that's what you have first time out of the gate here. There is just too much that, whilst fine in of itself, pads the film out and slow its down without adding anything. Watching the dwarves play with plates is funny, charming and nicely establishing both their characters and Bilbo's primness, but these are re-established several times later in the film and taking 40 minutes before Bilbo shouts "I'm going on an adventure!" is at least 20 minutes too long.

That said there is a lot to like in An Unexpected Journey. It does manage to look like it's part of the Lord of the Rings sage, but at the same has its own tonal identity; the dwarves are endearingly bumbling, even in fights, the threats aren't epic, world-ending dooms but small bands of orcs, goblins and wandering trolls. It makes it a lighter, airier film that suits its source material and means that its one moment of real peril - Riddles in the Dark - work really well, cutting into the story with a dark and mean heart.

Speaking of cutting into the story, it's harder to judge the big additions - Radagast and the Dol Guldur plotlines - simply because they don't go anywhere, and their merit can only be assessed when we've seen the rest of the trilogy. It is quite nice to see the actors reprising their roles, but it feels a little too much like another random side-show that the film could miss, if you take it on it's own merits.

Overall I really enjoyed An Unexpected Journey - most of its flaws are stacked in it's first hour, and it finishes very strongly, so you're left with a warm feeling towards the film overall. Its also worth mentioning that we took Ewan (10) who loved it, even the dwarves with plates, so I suspect its hitting the mark with its target market too. Good, but not great, and still looking forward to the next one.