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Sunday, December 16, 2012

(Published in City Express, The New Indian Express, on December 15, 2012)

NOTE: Since watching this film a second time, in HFR  3D, my opinion of the 3D usage has changed. It's simply exquisite!

Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, Hugo Weaving, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch, and others
Director: Peter Jackson
Rating: 4.5 stars
The first thing to remember about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it’s the first of three parts of a book that precedes a trilogy. What we can reasonably expect is a gorgeous-looking film that establishes the setting. That, we get. Perhaps it needs three films to tell us how a book with as cute a name as The Hobbit and as innocuous a first line as, “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit” could end with The Battle of the Five Armies, and encompass the beginnings of as sinister an adventure as The Lord of the Rings.
We don’t get quite so far here. For those familiar with the book, we stop before the party of Thorin enters the cave of Beorn, before the lot even get into Mirkwood. In the book, that’s just over a hundred pages. On screen, it’s close to three hours. For the fan, it’s 169 minutes of pure delight, as Peter Jackson unapologetically focuses on bringing the words and locales of J R R Tolkien alive.
As if to give us something to prepare us for what will be a mostly tranquil watch, Jackson begins the film with the story of Moria – of Thrór, Thráin, and Thorin Oakenshield, of Smaug the Dragon’s conquest of The Lonely Mountain, and the humiliating exodus of the Dwarves to lands where they would work as blacksmiths and ironmongers.
That isn’t the only change Jackson makes to the chronology and content of The Hobbit. Gandalf’s quip to a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), “All good stories deserve embellishment” could be symbolic of what happens in the film version. Characters who don’t appear in the book step in for cameos, and others slip out of the pages where they were meant to come in, and make their appearances elsewhere. The storytelling is enhanced by an endearing silliness to the interactions between the Dwarves, especially Fili and Kili.
However, the highlight of the first part of The Hobbit is Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis), and it’s pictured as beautifully as we could have hoped. From the bewildering split personality of Gollum, to the high-stakes guessing game he and Bilbo play, to what eventually happens, the plot is so wonderfully paced that we feel jittery, even when we know exactly how this will end.
Scattered through the film are little nods to how intricately Jackson and his team have studied Tolkien’s works. The motif of leaves on the bright-coloured clothes Hobbits traditionally wear, the detailing of the architecture of Erebor, and the lovingly-constructed lyrical continuity between this film and the Lord of the Rings series, make us long for the camera to pause just a little longer, and allow us to absorb them all.
The stars of the film are Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen, whose eyes alone bring layers to their characters. One of my favourite scenes is Bilbo’s dilemma over whether to kill Gollum, and Freeman truly excels here. McKellen’s grand stage is the dinner at Bilbo’s, where he isn’t quite sure he’s chosen the right candidate for The Burglar.
The Verdict: I’m not a fan of Jackson’s 3D, but I loved every frame of this film.


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