It's been a long time since a New Zealand film has generated as much hype as The Hobbit - nine years in fact.
That's how long it’s been since Peter Jackson, now Sir Peter, released The Lord of the Rings: the Return of the King. That film netted 11 Academy Awards, basked in international acclaim and helped score its writer/director/producer a knighthood.
So can Sir Peter's prequel live up to the anticipation? Will it be a box office hit and sit elegantly next to the LOTR trilogy in its final resting place, the multi-disk box set on the bookshelf under the tele?
I believe so, here's why.
Even if you're not a Lord of the Rings fan, An Unexpected Journey is worth seeing for one scene alone - when the young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) encounters Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the all important Ring for the first time. This would play out beautifully on a sparse theatre stage but add to it Weta Digital's computer mastery and astounding performances by both Serkis and Freeman and it's utter brilliance.
Computer generated imagery has come a long way since we were first introduced to the schizophrenic, twisted Gollum and there's a new level of detail captured in his facial expressions and movement. The scene is even more impressive when you take into account it was filmed right at the start of production, so Serkis could be freed up for his role as second unit director.
Sir Peter repeatedly said he couldn't have made this film without Freeman as his Bilbo and somewhat incredibly put the whole project on hold for months to work around Freeman's Sherlock obligations. Once you see the film you'll understand why. Freeman's Bilbo is delightfully neurotic, humourous and real. This film will make Tim from The Office a superstar.
In saying all of the above, I hate to build up expectations too much and there are a few downsides to the film.
Those expecting the same level of darkness as the LOTR will be disappointed. The Hobbit is a children's story and the first hour, set primarily in the Hobbit village Bag End, certainly feels very kid-friendly.
There's a fair bit of emotionally charged singing from the 13 Dwarves and at times it approaches musical territory. Fans of Richard Armitage (Dwarf Prince Thorin Oakenshield) will enjoy his baritone performance. He does, however, spend a lot of the film gazing out from under his prosthetic forehead with a piercing stare something I'm hoping his character is developed further than over the next two films.
I also felt there were a too many Orc and Goblin battles but I'm sure others (read: men) won't have a problem with all the action.
There's been a lot of kerfuffle about the decision to shoot in double speed 3D. Forty-eight frames-per-second makes the film look hyper-real and despite not being a fan of 3D, I loved the overall effect. Those claiming to feel sick afterwards probably just ate too much popcorn.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is almost three hours long but I was left wanting more - partly because the story is unfinished and partly because it’s such a visual feast.
While three films might seem indulgent, The Two Towers was my favourite from the previous trilogy and I'll certainly be heading to the cinema again next November for The Desolation of Smaug.
Four and a half stars.
- A rock giant battle that creates thunder
- Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf
- Brett McKenzie as an elf
- Sylvester McCoy as the brown wizard Radagast
- Barry Humphries as the Goblin King – he brings an unhealthy level of disgusting to the role
- Richard Armitage's blue steel
- Frodo (Elijah Wood) only makes an appearance for all of about 90 seconds (could also be a highlight)
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
:: Director: Peter Jackson
:: Starring: Martin Freeman,Ian McKellen,Andy Serkis,Cate Blanchett,Christopher Lee,Elijah Wood,Richard Armitage,Orlando Bloom,Hugo Weaving,Graham McTavish
:: Running Time: 166 mins
:: Release Date: December 12, 2012
:: Trailer: Watch here