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Sunday, December 16, 2012

(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on December 16, 2012, retrieved from

NOTE: Since watching this film a second time, in HFR  3D, my opinion of the 3D usage has changed. It's simply exquisite! But do watch it in HFR, not the regular version.

Cast: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Andy Serkis, and others
Director: Peter Jackson
Rating: 4.5 stars
There are some of us who spent part of our teen years poring over the title pages and maps of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, to learn the runes. We knew the songs of the Dwarves, the Elves and Men. We dreamt of Rivendell and Lothlórien, we yearned for the lost languages of Sindarin, Quenya, and Rohirric. It’s my belief that it’s for those crazed fans that Peter Jackson makes his Tolkien movies.
It’s a tough ask to keep a lay audience entertained through a three-hour film drawn from a third of a 300-page book. But, for the fans, somehow, it feels like Peter Jackson’s plucked the strands right out of our imaginations, and thrown them on the screen. Just as it became impossible to imagine a Gandalf who didn’t look like Ian McKellen, and an Aragorn who didn’t look like Viggo Mortensen, it becomes impossible to imagine a young Bilbo Baggins who didn’t look like Martin Freeman, and a Thorin Oakenshield who didn’t look like Richard Armitage.
Peter Jackson pulls us into the story by telling us of Smaug’s attack on Moria, before we’re taken to the Shire and Bilbo’s lovely encounter with Gandalf, which starts with the deconstruction of a greeting. However, Jackson rarely takes liberties with the narrative, except to put in what appear to be nods to the Lord of the Rings series, with most key characters making guest appearances.
It’s a delight to watch the dishwashing rhyme come alive, and hear the song of the Dwarves’ lost treasure in the haunting baritone of Richard Armitage. With no need for a flashback to Moria, the camera stays in the hobbit hole, and we’re allowed to feel what Bilbo did in the book, to be stirred by a home in mountain caverns, by the glow of the Arkenstone, by the sound of arms being forged, by the clink of the delicate chainmail only Dwarves can craft, the things we long for without having seen. But it may be too subtle for an audience that isn’t familiar with the book. On the contrary, parts of the song – and film – are overstated, with a too-literal visualisation of the lyrics.
My biggest grouse, though, is with the 3D, which was completely unnecessary. The Lord of the Rings series was magnificent in two dimensions. 3D could have been used well enough, if it were taking us into Tolkien’s locales. But, to the horror of Peter Jackson fans, it is the 3D of cheap thrills, of weapons flashing at us, and Wargs jumping over us.
The Verdict: The film is gorgeous, but read the book before you go.


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