The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Film Review

The Hobbit

As Frodo and Bilbo Baggins prepare for a party Bilbo reminisces about an adventure from his past. Sixty years previously Bilbo was reluctantly recruited by the wizard Gandalf to join a troupe of dwarves on a journey to reclaim their kingdom from the fearsome dragon Smaug. The hobbit and dwarves set off for their destination after some partying (and two songs), encounter trolls, orcs, elves, and goblins along the way and after 169 minutes have yet to even arrive.

That’s right. In a film adaptation of a book subtitled There and Back Again this first film of three compiling to make The Hobbit doesn’t manage to complete the “There” let alone the “and Back Again“. It’s a debate I continue to have with myself as to whether films in a trilogy should be able to stand on their own as three single films rather than having to coexist to remain coherent. An Unexpected Journey is very much a set-up followed by some set pieces rather than a film in its own right. As the credits rolled on what had been an enjoyable film (more of that shortly) I couldn’t help but feel slightly cheated that I would have to wait another 12 months before I got to even see them arrive at their destination.

All that aside An Unexpected Journey is an enjoyable film. It looks gorgeous and is filled with plenty of laughs, epic landscapes, and more fights than you can shake an oversized wizard’s staff at. What An Unexpected Journey is not is in any way unexpected. There are no surprises. The whole event felt incredibly familiar as it maintained the style and tone of The Lord of the Rings. Watching a hobbit set off on an epic quest surrounded by a gang of strangers who do a lot of walking occasionally interrupted by fights along the way and flashbacks to large battles starts to feel like deja vu on an unprecedented scale. An Unexpected Journey is more Delia Smith than Heston Blumenthal; you get what you expect and enjoy it but at no point is your breath taken away.

The cast are all perfectly functional and highly recognisable. Anyone who has sufficient years of UK TV watching behind them will spend the 2.82 hours trying to place the familiar faces behind dwarf prosthetics. Ian McKellen remains fantastic as Gandalf and Martin Freeman reprises his reluctant traveller persona from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Luckily Freeman perfectly fits the character of Bilbo so there was no need for him to get wildly experimental and I couldn’t imagine a more hobbity performance.

Now how about the 3D and the 48 frames per second I hear you nerds ask? As a bit of a 3D-phobic let it be taken as a huge compliment when I describe the 3D as unobtrusive. It added little to the action sequences and at times made any background CGI a little flat but it didn’t make any images double up or blur. In static shots where my eyes had a chance to absorb all the dimensions/frames/pixels/whatever the image was so perfectly realised that it looked genuinely real. A shot of Bilbo sitting at his desk writing was so well captured that I felt I could have walked up and knocked over his ink well. Whether you want such realism in a fantasy film is another debate – one I will slyly run away from at this point. The film looked great and my only complaint would be that wearing glasses over my glasses can get tiresome as a film enters its third hour.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is going to be a real thrill for any fan of Lord of the Rings simply because it so closely resembles its predecessors. On the same note however anyone who would rather never set foot in Middle Earth again is not going to find themselves changing their mind with this outing of more of the same. An Unexpected Journey is a lot of fun and stands out as a rare fantasy epic in a year where superheroes trying to stick to gritty realism have dominated. I look forward to the next two sequels both because I liked this outing but also because it didn’t contain enough of a story to suffice.

P.S. Gollum has never looked better.

Elementary – TV Series Trailer

After I gushed over the BBC’s hugely successful and coolly modernised Sherlock Holmes series, Sherlock I thought I should at least write my first thoughts on the little we have seen of US broadcaster, CBS’s upcoming take on the detective: the whimsically titled, Elementary.

There seems to be a lot of hesitation around the series (including from myself) but there is also something infinitely cool about the fact that Johnny Lee Miller, who (in Danny Boyle’s  2011 Frankenstein play) switched between the roles of Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s Monster with Benedict Cumberbatch nightly, making this the second time the pair of them will be ‘sharing’ a role.

In the new three-minute preview (below) we don’t seem to be offered anything gobsmackingly revolutionary or particularly interesting, but if one thing is clear it is that Elementary certainly looks like it will be quite different in look and feel from Sherlock.

I don’t know whether to start with the fact that Englishman, Miller’s Sherlock puts on an uncanny impression of David Hyde Pierce (“Niles Crane, Private Detective!”) or that Dr John Watson has sex-changed into Lucy Liu.

Past the quirkiness of Rubik’s Cubing the discovering of corpses whilst cops blather about how amazing the ‘world’s most famous detective is’ it seems evident that the show is going to also heavily revolve around the chemistry and friendship of Holmes and Joan Watson (I see what they did there) – who appear to meet in a rehab centre after Sherlock’s drug problem takes him to New York.

That chemistry between the leads is arguably one of the greatest things about the BBC’s series, with Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch’s ambiguous harmony creating excellent character-driven storytelling. Worryingly, from the trailer alone, sexual tension seems pretty apparent in Elementary. Hmm, I spy my first major qualm with the show. I don’t oppose to romantic interests in Sherlock Holmes tales, just romantic interests in Sherlock Holmes tales who aren’t Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch.

From the trailer CBS’s Sherlock Holmes looks and feels more human and therefore potentially more vulnerable than the BBC’s which could allow for some great drama if he isn’t going to always remain in a Cumberbatch-bubble of non-existent emotion. Elementary has stuck with an English Sherlock but seems to have changed just about everything else so I am ready to give it a fair chance. In all the Sherlock hype at the moment it is a shame that FOX’s long-running television series, Sherlock Holmes M.D. ends next next week, too.

Anyway, never mind my rubbish opinion, watch the trailer and decide for yourself:

Mild Concern and the Case Of Why We’re Sherlocked

It seems like there is a subtle abundance (ignore the oxymoron) of Sherlock Holmes right now: Guy Ritchie’s abomination looks like it’s going to live in Sequel Town for a while longer; there was the terrible idea of a Sacha Baron Cohen film franchise not long ago (that was thankfully dropped); the young adult novels of Young Sherlock Holmes by Andy Lane also show no signs of slowing, and finally, let us not forget the 2010 direct-to-DVD Sherlock Holmes (WHICH HAS A GIGANTIC OCTOPUS AND A T-REX IN IT). It almost feels a shame that the only Sherlock Holmes revival worth any interest to the many is The Beeb’s Sherlock.

Now mid-way through its second series (episode two of three); unlike its other reincarnations I don’t want it to stop. Incidentally, I recently spoke to an American reviewer who was gobsmacked at the idea of Sherlock having ‘only’ three episodes [per “season”]. There lies one of the reasons that the quality of our British television is often far superior to the Yanks’: we Brits don’t like to beat a dead horse. Instead we give you three, focused feature-length episodes of pure modernised brilliance and leave it at that for another year.

Helmed almost entirely by the men that injected Doctor Who into the hearts and minds of today’s generation and starring some fine British talent, it’s hard to argue against the quality of Sherlock. Another attribute to the show’s success is its contemporary modernisation of the beloved classic tales. Renovating the old novels to the level that showrunners Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat do, Doyle’s most renowned work becomes relevant to another century; extremely kinetic and an absolute pleasure to watch.

And lest we not forget just how great Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are in their oh-so-suited roles. Before Sherlock they were minor blips on the mainstream consciousness – though both had arguably already enjoyed successful careers, and now they have also attained Hollywood success (amongst other films, both appearing in the upcoming The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey as Smaug and Bilbo Baggins respectively).

So what has Sherlock’s second season series brought us then? Well, Mr Holmes was photographed in that famous hat he (allegedly) loves to wear in the books (which he absolutely despises in the show) adding physically to the characters evolution this year; his sexuality is constantly being referenced (as well as numerous droll Holmes/Watson homosexual jokes) and he’s definitely got some of those mad fighting skills that Guy Ritchie loves to show off in slow motion. Amongst other stories, the most recent episode also saw the re-imagining of ‘The Hounds Of Baskerville’, which is arguably one of the most popular of the Sherlock tales. This year, the show has also diverted its plots from aggravating coppers to a more fluid mystery-solving-for-hire show as Watson has begun to blog and Twitter about their cases, bringing in more ‘custom’ to satisfy Holmes’ needs.

The show doesn’t quite get away with zero qualms, however. For example The Daily Mail refused to give the show any slack over making this series more sexy as they evidenced in their article over Lara Pulver appearing naked “a full 25 minutes before 9pm”(!!!), as well as Moriarty’s likeness to Skins’ series one baddie, Mad Twatter PHD becoming a little too scarily WTF-like.

Some will complain, some will see it as genius television-making (and we need something to lift us up after the recent brutalities done to the British film industry) and I for one will be very sad when the doors to 221b Baker Street close for another year after this Sunday’s finale.

You can watch the series two finale this Sunday (Jan 15th) on BBC1 at 9pm and catch up with this series on iPlayer here. Series two will be released on DVD on the 23rd January.

Hey Look, It’s Martin Freeman

After leaving work early to barricade myself at home and avoid any potential riots yesterday, I stumbled across a crew filming a scene for the second series of Sherlock. Martin Freeman (Dr. John Watson) and Mark Gatiss (Mycroft Holmes) were standing outside Speedy’s Snack Bar near Euston waiting for the shot to be set up. I left before they turned on the rain machine for fear of getting soaked and/or looted.

Here are our “exclusive” Sherlock set photos, sorry you can’t see Freeman’s face. Click the pictures to enlarge.

For some reason people seem very excited about Mycroft’s umbrella.