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Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The (3D)

8/10

Stars: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O'Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Jeffrey Thomas, Mike Mizrahi, Mark Hadlow, Peter Hambleton, Benedict Cumberbatch

Director: Peter Jackson

I have never read any of J R R Tolkienís celebrated novels.

Which is just fine by me since Iím reviewing the film and not the novel.

While this may upset cinema purists, Iíve always held the view that is that what is on the screen and not the source material should be considered. And Iíve felt this way ever since seeing Mike Nichols disembowel my favourite novel, Joseph Hellerís Catch-22, and strew the mangled entrails carelessly across the screen with apparently little interest in the original.

All of which leads me to say that while Peter Jacksonís first film in his post-Lord of the Rings trilogy may not appeal to those who have taken the book to heart, I found The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to be a feast of wild and wonderful action set against brilliantly created fantastic backgrounds that dazzled the eye without distracting from the action.

The title tells all. Ian Holm, the original Bilbo Baggins, briefly appears (along with an even briefer cameo by Elijah Wood as Frodo) and, summing up the previous pictures and introducing what follows, states ďI may not tell you all of itĒ. After which we flash back to Martin Freemanís young Bilbo, who lives happily in his underground home (which somewhat bizarrely boasts an American-style postbox) until his placid dwelling is invaded by a bunch of riotous dwarfs who would have given Snow White a massive conniption fit as they turn the place upside down and generally behave very badly.

They, and McKellenís magisterial wizard Gandalf set out to recruit Bilbo for an epic, danger-ridden journey to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebo from scary dragon Smaug, a dangerous, action ridden trek that will face Freeman with danger and death and unite him with Gollum (brilliantly brought to life by Andy Serkis) before ending on a genuine cliffhanger Ė Bilbo and the dwarfs find themselves clinging to a tree hanging over a vast canyon and about to drop into itÖ

Magnificent movie magic that creates sweeping vistas that could only have been born from Jacksonís imagination add immensely to the story which faces the heroes with everything from grisly goblins to Orcs and Wargs. Andrew Lesnieís superb, Oscar-worthy, 3D cinematography literally adds depth to both the story and the backgrounds without dwarfing the drama that takes place in front of them.

Despite stunning visuals, the actors are not diminished by their settings. Freeman, previously one of the dullest actors Iíve seen on screen, rises to the occasion very well indeed and manages not to be upstaged by the brawling dwarfs played by Nesbitt, Stott, McCoy and Co. which is quite some achievement.

McKellen is as impressive as ever as he leads his small safari, Lee makes a cameo appearance as Saruman and makes the most of his brief appearance, as does Blanchett as Galadriel, while Jackson blends action and comedy (I particularly enjoyed heading the complaint that they were ďOne dwarf shortĒ which struck me as one of the finest cases of over-egging the pudding to be found in films) in just the right amounts.

While itís patently true that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has less of a storyline than its Lord of the Rings predecessors, I believe Jackson (and his co-writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Guillermo del Toro) has used the source material very entertainingly indeed this time, and I look forward to the next two movies in the trilogy.

It may not be Tolkien as we know it, Jim, but itís a splendidly fun film for all that.

Alan Frank

USA/New Zealand 2012. UK Distributor: Warner. Colour.
169 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 2, Swearing 0.

Review date: 14 Dec 2012