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Sunday, 13 January 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Directed by: Peter Jackson

Produced by: Caroline Cunningham
Zane Weiner
Fran Walsh
Peter Jackson

Screenplay by: Fran Walsh
Phillipa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Guillermo del Toro

Based on: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring: Martin Freeman
Ian McKellen
Richard Armitage
James Nesbitt
Ken Stott
Cate Blanchett
Ian Holm
Christopher Lee
Hugo Weaving
Elijah Wood
Andy Serkis

Music by: Howard Shore

Cinematography by: Andrew Lesnie

Editing by: Jabez Olssen

Studio(s): New Line Cinema
WingNut Films

Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date(s): November 28, 2012 (Wellinton Premiere)
December 12, 2012 (New Zealand)
December 13, 2012 (United Kingdom)
December 14, 2012 (United States)

Running time: 169 minutes

Country(s): New Zealand
United States

Language: English

Production budget: $200-$315 million

Box office revenue (as of publication): $840, 924, 000

Ookay there, folks, me again, wishing you happy hauntings in your nightmares! Ha ha ha, yes, your resident Vincent Price is here and in full force (what with essays being done and what have you), so you can expect an abundance of posts over the next month. I've got four backed up (John Carter, Life Of Pi, That's My Boy, A Dangerous Method), a copy of Argo and Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai to address, and that's just December! Believe me (as if I'm ever trustworthy) when I say that if ever there is a time to pay attention, now is it, because this has got to the point that it is like a reflex: do me a favour and keep your eyes posted!

Right, with the messianic delusions out of the way, let's take a look at The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Much has been said in the press about the film with regards to the forty-eight frames a second high rate, but there's much more contextual crap than just this. Back in 1995, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh envisaged The Hobbit as the first instalment of a trilogy, which would include The Lord Of The Rings as the second and third parts. Well, in case you have been under a rock since the Y2K hysteria, that didn't happen, with Jackson and Walsh realising The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, a monumental achievement in moviemaking which studios try to emulate but can never quite match the majesty of. In development since 2007, when Jackson signed on as Executive Producer, the studio has went through issues with The Tolkien Estate (quite rightly) over royalties. Then, after working since 2008 on the project, original director Guillermo del Toro left in 2010 due to the numerous production delays, with Jackson later that year taking over in the director's chair for the two movies. Then, after production went from March 21, 2011 to July 6, 2012, 266 days in total filming, Jackson announced in 2012 that The Hobbit, despite being shot as two films, was now going to be released as three movies. Then we get to forty-eight frames. Many critics have been vocal about their criticism of the high frame-rate of the film, especially when working in conjunction with the 3D technology, which irks some (myself included) badly enough as it is. I must say for honesty's sake that when I saw the film in The Strand, it was a matinee at two-twenty in the afternoon and a 2D version, so I will not be addressing forty-eight frames in relation to 3D, but as it stands by itself. So, contextual crap out of the way, here comes a plot synopsis: set sixty years before the events in The Lord of the Rings (and some of which is adapted from The Return of the King's appendices), An Unexpected Journey tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who gets convinced by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to join a company of dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on a quest to reclaim The Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon. Thanks, Wikipedia, I've read the book on more than one occasion (which I love, incidentally), but I still needed that! Let's get crackin'!

To start with the good about the first instalment of The Hobbit, which I have a lot to say about, it is a splendidly established mise-en-scene. As with The Lord Of The Rings, the production design is just extraordinary. I'm sure I'm not the only one who got goosebumps when we made our return to The Shire, but once we set off on the adventure, you just buy and believe in every place they go to. This is Middle-Earth, but the sets are so well done that despite the fact that we are in fantasy land you can just accept it as a reality. Also, the costumes and make-up/hair departments have done a terrific job in designing and distinguishing the characters. I mean, I'm a big Jimmy Nesbitt fan, and for most of the film I couldn't tell that it was him playing one of the dwarves, and only started to recognise him because of his voice. If you can do that to an (at least I think!) eagle-eyed film critic, you're doing something right. Also, I think it's time that visual effects are seen as part of the mise-en-scene, because they're are as important as establishing this world as any 'physical' construction. Of course, the motion-capture is as good as expected, and likewise for the battle scenes, but the visual effects help make the world, and compliment the production design. There are certain things which are obviously effects because they're outside the realm of possibility in reality, but for the most part, the lines between the physical and digital constructions are very much blurred. In other departments, it is a technically sound film. It's very well edited by Jabez Olssen, who given the amount of different things that are going on here, manages to make it feel like a consistent piece. However, I'm actually going to come out and say that I liked Andrew Lesnie's cinematography and the forty-eight frames. While I wouldn't use it for every movie, especially if Mr. Motion Sickness Inducing Wobbly Bits is brought into the equation, but in distinguishing this from The Lord Of The Rings, it gives the film a unique visual splendour. As I said, I saw it in 2D, so the forty-eight frames was fine in that format, and the thing about Lesnie's cinematography, from Babe to Lord Of The Rings, is that his work focuses on the overall artistry of the piece. So many cinematographers have seen The Bourne films and think that because Paul Greengrass' crew did it well that they have the liberty to go crazy in actions movies with the camera. I have seen set videos on Star Trek with J.J. Abrams literally shaking the camera (he used it well, incidentally), so I can only imagine how others do it. The point is that Lesnie does not go nuts with the camera(s) to give the impression of a frenetic atmosphere, but does do a terrific job of highlighting just how much work went into the film. With much of this film comprising of the same crew of The Lord Of The Rings, it's appropriate that composer Howard Shore is back on the film. One of our greatest living composers, who made his bones working with David Cronenberg, is a welcome returnee to the franchise. Hearing Concerning Hobbits again is a wonder, but this is no nostalgia trip where music is regarded. Shore has come up with a mighty suite that has motifs from the previous films, but at it's crux is based around the Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold song from the Tolkien text. It's a far more musical film, with the dwarves singing at various points, and hearing Misty Mountains sung with the vocals brought to the fore is simply wondrous. Also, while the whole ensemble is praiseworthy, I'd like to mention certain actors specifically. Richard Armitage is a strong Thorin Oakenshield, carrying himself with suitable weight and presence. Also impressive from the dwarf contingency was Ken Stott as Balin, who made the character immensely likeable and came across as worldly-wise. Now I'll get onto two motion-capture roles. I thought that Barry Humphries' Great Goblin was hilarious, but, of course, the show-stealer (again!) is Andy Serkis' returning Gollum. It really is quite something how this journey that we are going on with this company, which we have sat through for about two hours already, takes a complete tonal shift on account of Serkis. Frankly, upon arrival, you kind of suddenly sit and become engrossed from the utterance of the first syllable. I've always been a big fan of Serkis' devilishly brilliant Gollum, and seeing him play this character again just reminds me how good he is and how motion-capture performances deserve to be judged alongside 'live-action' performances. Also great is the returning Ian McKellen, who's Gandalf is as ever just a screen wonder made so by the brilliance of the actor playing him. Finally on the acting front, I was a fan of the casting of Martin Freeman, and I cannot say that I was disappointed. He carries the movie with his abundance of charisma, and we know he can do comedy, but his transitions between being comedic and serious were flawless. He has aways been a talented actor, but having seen him in utter rubbish like Swinging With The Finkels, a film which consisted of him doing what I (and Danland Movies) have labelled 'The Martin Freeman Look' (something between bemusement, embarrassment and surprise), I hope The Hobbit trilogy will open up a lot of doors for him. And finally on the positive front (told you I had a lot to say, and more!), Peter Jackson has done a terrific job here as director. Considering this time round he is also working as the executive producer, it's quite a testament to his stamina, patience and capabilities that he can work in a number of different capacities and still keep a level head on the proceedings. He gives the film pace, weight and consistency, which is what a three-hour film needs really to keep it's audience engaged. 

However (the big however!), much as I think that this first instalment of The Hobbit film trilogy is a monumental achievement in filmmaking, and I got a great degree of personal enjoyment from it, I cannot deny that the script is very flawed. It's not a rubbish script by any stretch, but it's nowhere near up to the standards that we are expect from this crew. I mean, The Return Of The King was released with a fiercely bold two-hundred minute running time, but I was engaged from start to finish, and it quite deservedly won the Academy Award for Best Picture among a bevvy of others.  In the case of this, An Unexpected Journey, it's about a one hundred and sixty minutes, and while it's consistent, you could have cut at least thirty minutes out of it. There's really no need for this to be near three hours long, and the use of the appendices of Tolkien's Return Of The King does come across as padding. Also, some sections of the movie do drag themselves rather poorly, which is quite a shame given how much is good with the film. I know some of you who are reading this might think my final judgement on the film is false, especially given that I liked so much about the film and that there is only one real flaw. With that being said, I can't deny that this flaw (the script) is a major one that is the equivalent of having a knife plunged into the back of a beautiful Aphrodite.

Look, there is a major flaw with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with it's script, but despite this, it's a very good movie. The mise-en-scene is tremendously established, it's a technically astute movie and I had no problem whatsoever with the forty-eight frames. Also, Howard Shore delivers a great score, with Far Over The Misty Mountains Cold and it's related motifs being highlights, the ensemble cast, particularly Andy Serkis and Martin Freeman, was strong, and Peter Jackson's direction has passion and it's quite an achievement given how much he is doing in the creative process of creating this film. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (chillin' and grillin')

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