Friday, 21 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, dir. Peter Jackson, wr. Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro, st. Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis

It's probably fair to say that 'origins' films, unless they're kickstarting a tired franchise, rarely work - reason being, there's a reason film-makers prefer to cut to the chase; that's where all the narrative meat is. And few can doubt that The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship of the RingThe Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers, and The Lord Of The Rings: The Return of the King provided a hearty repast indeed, not to mention enough for several walk-in freezer-fulls of future cinematic grub, with all their home-video extended-edition chewiness. One's curiosity then was piqued indeed on the news that Peter Jackson was planning on bringing J. R. R. Tolkien's prequel The Hobbit, or There And Back Again to the big screen, via not one, but three gut-busting films. How 310 pages of Hobbit translates to 9 hours of film (compared to Rings' 1571 pages) isn't so much as important as how Jackson is going to make us care again, given how we know how things are going to end up, and at what cost. There's undoubtedly still immense joy to be had from watching the artistry at work; Weta once again outdo themselves in the sheer scale and detail of the Middle Earth landscape and creatures fair and foul that reside within, and amongst an able cast, Martin Freeman's ultra-naturalistic style of performance works wonders against the hyper-fantastical setting and grounds his Bilbo Baggins with persuasive authenticity. Yet, and here's the rub, it's woefully short on tension, and several wonderfully orchestrated scenes are simply stretched out to unnatural running times. Repeatedly. Bilbo's confrontation with Gollum is a shudder-inducing reminder of what a thrillingly twisted character the ex-hobbit is (and the superlatively intricate work of Andy Serkis' mo-cap) but their game of riddles de-tensions itself by over-extension. Similarly the Dwarves' escape from the goblin underworld is achingly long, even teetering on the verge of parody. That said, it's engaging enough, and Howard Shore's music is still as melodically thunderous as it ever was. and many of the first trilogy's leitmotifs are re-used to provide ominous links to future characters and events. But with the Lord Of The Rings triumvirate sitting at numbers 6, 21, and 30 of the top 50 all time worldwide Box Office charts, it's hard not to hear the cranking-up of the great Hollywood machine, and the clinking of newly-minted coin. Even at ultra-sharp 48fps, complete with that Saturday Morning Kitchen look, I suspect The Hobbit isn't doing anything new, but time, critical opinion, and financial stats will tell if there's been an excess of supply for limp demand.