I didn’t have massively high expectations for this prequel, but having seen Prometheus, Star Trek and a whole host of other films jumping on that particular ‘prequel’ band wagon, I had an open mind.
The opening segment is actually rather lovely. We see some familiar faces in a setting we are all familiar with (if we’ve watched the Lord of the Rings that is). There’s a real feeling that this is a much more toned down take on the whole franchise, but that does change some way in with a lot (and I mean a lot) of fight induced bloodshed. We are introduced to Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in a rather beautifully scripted bit of whimsy. The introduction of the other characters is done with a gentle pace and with some nice characterisation, although it does seem to take a long time to get into any narrative or action.
The performances are, on the whole, very good. There’s a lot of energy and focus on material that you can tell probably wasn’t the easiest to get involved in. One stand out performance I must point out was Sylvester McCoy who is perfectly cast as one of the five wizards who protect Middle Earth. He’s a wonderful antidote to Ian McKellan’s severity and melodrama. Martin Freeman was good, but I feel he struggles to play anything other than 'bewildered everyman'. Fortunately in this it worked better than it could have.
This is the main problem I see with The Hobbit. It’s slow. Very slow. Too slow. You can really tell the whole narrative is a protracted effort to sex up what is a rather short children's book. It’s also (characteristically) long. I wasn’t keeping tabs on the timings of each segment but I know my bum was numb by half way through, but that’s to be expected with a Jackson flick these days.
Visually there’s nothing particularly new in the film. We are now entirely used to the New Zealand panoramic views and stylistic vistas from the previous films so we expect to be blown away (and in expecting so, we aren’t). Without being too cruel to the effort that’s obviously been put into the film (and that’s something the film gets top marks for) I have to say that the visuals do feel like a series of well designed screen savers, albeit incredible ones.
This film uses a brand new type of 3D which uses forty eight frames per second (the standard is twenty four). This sounds like a leap forwards but from what I saw it actually cheapens the overall look of the film. It really felt like the footage hadn’t been graded and the studio footage really looked like that. You can notice it more during shots showing fast movement as it looks like frames are missing (oddly). It’s difficult to explain, but it was really distracting. Not that there was too much on screen to be distracted from.
As a film in its own right, I personally don’t think it stands up; it’s a soup of Lord of the Rings, children’s literature, English myth and visuals that don’t really bring the whole thing together. It will appeal to fans and a younger audience but all I could think of whenever I saw Gandalf was Magical Trevor. And that song doesn't get out of your head quickly.