For those folk fortunate enough to see the Lord Of The Rings trilogy on the big screen back in the day, director Peter Jackson’s original saga was an annual early Christmas gift for film-lovers.

Well, Jackson and co are back to try and recapture that festive feeling with The Hobbit, the first in a three-parter that will see cinemagoers through to 2014.

The good news is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey provides all the thrills, spills and big-screen awe we are used to from the New Zealander’s work.

The bad news, if you could call it that, is that it never quite reaches the height of the films that have gone before it – a tough act to follow, to be sure.

Clocking in at just under three hours, The Hobbit has all the epic-scale set-pieces we have come to love and expect, but it just feels a bit stretched, with Jackson seemingly intent in drawing every scene out.

After a prelude set in the same timeframe as the ‘Lord’ movies, the action shifts back 60 years to when Bilbo Baggins was a much younger Hobbit.

Baggins is now played by Martin Freeman, producing an enjoyable turn as the put-upon, oft-exasperated hero.

Bilbo is thrown headlong into the unexpected journey of the film’s title when he is coerced into joining forces with a small band of dwarves (led by Richard Armitage’s Thorin), who plan to return to their original home to combat the giant dragon that laid waste to most of their race.

Adding to the mix is Gandalf, who accompanies the band on their quest and pops up with the odd spell when things get especially hairy.

Naturally, this journey is not a straightforward one, sending the gang through treacherous lands where they square off against the likes of orcs and trolls.

And there is added spice thanks to the chief villain of the piece, a Captain Hook-esque pale orc, who sports a mutilated arm thanks to it being hacked off by Thorin.

Naturally, everybody sitting down to watch this is aware it is the first of a trilogy, so the downside is you end up waiting for a cliffhanger ending that never really comes.

There are also the pros and cons of Jackson having to call on so many of the original cast.

Yes, there is much pleasure to be had from seeing the likes of Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee reprising their noteworthy roles.

It provides a snug comfort zone for the viewer, sliding into a story and mythology you feel totally at ease with.

The flip to that though is that there is little to be totally dazzled by, as, despite the undoubted thrill of the huge set-pieces, you get that ‘seen it all before’ vibe.

And make no mistake, some of the set-pieces are fittingly huge, most notably a battle between stone mountain giants and a chase sequence through the orc’s underground lair.

There is also much delight to be gained from the re-appearance of a certain Andy Serkis-voiced creation, who pops up to give the film fresh impetus when it was in danger of flagging.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is at times thrilling, fun and even moving.

But, when it breaks stride for a dwarf song and dance routine, it also comes mightily close to full-blown cheese.

To be fair, there is nothing particularly wrong with the film – in fact, for the vast chunk of the running time I was more than entertained.

But I also got that nagging feeling that something was missing, yearning for the ‘do I really have to wait another year?’ buzz I got from the original films.

It never came, which is why I feel The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is just a success, rather than a roaring one.

 

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.