Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey may not be the complete bastardisation some fans of J.R.R Tolkien’s novel feared, but it’s far from a faithful adaptation.
Right from the start the story is re-purposed from a standalone hit in its own right into a mere prequel for Jackson’s Lord of The Rings film trilogy.
Instead of Tolkien’s gloriously poetic opening, the audience is ‘treated’ to Ian Holm and Elijah Wood reprising their roles of the older Bilbo Baggins and Frodo from the first trilogy.
We should apparently not care that that Frodo – or for that matter Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) or Saruman (Christopher Lee) – doesn’t actually appear in Tolkien’s novel.
Nor should we seemingly care that their inclusion detracts from the original awe-inspiring story to such an extent that it slows down the action and needlessly pads out the film.
Cynics – not always the same as a critic but in this instance the two are probably close in thinking – are forgiven for suspecting their presence is at least partly to ensure the book can be turned into a trilogy rather than a less lucrative two-part adaptation.
At almost 3 hours the film is too long and littered with false endings. By time it finally finished I was praying to be let out and return to the hell that is Christmas shopping in mid December.
Visually An Unexpected Journey often resembles nothing more than a series of cartoon-like effects shots separated by dialogue so hammy you’ll be surprised it doesn’t oink and have a ring through its nose.
As for the cast, Martin Freeman (Bilbo) darts between looking quizzical and mildly embarrassed but seldom innocent and unworldly, while Richard Armitage (Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield) is hampered in his efforts to like a heroic leader by the fact he leads an instantly forgettable ensemble.
With the exception of Ken Stott, James Nebitt and Aiden Turner, the Dwarf brotherhood are largely indistinguishable from one another.
Former Doctor Who star Sylvester McCoy positively shines as Radagast the Brown but a chase sequence involving his character, some orcs and a score of rabbits provides one of the film’s most embarrassingly poor effects. It’s a marvel that the sequence survived the final edit.
The only time the film really shines is when Bilbo finally encounters Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the two face off in their battle of riddles.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will do great box office and be declared a huge success, but I suspect without the guaranteed hit brand the same film would struggle to be taken seriously.
Our verdict 2/5