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.
Blistering barnacles, it’s a Tintin motion capture feature!
Young reporter Tintin buys a model ship, just before two other men – one with a creepy pointed beard – both also try to buy it. Intrigued by the potential story behind the model Tintin refuses and sets off to investigate, just to have the ship stolen from his apartment. Meanwhile, Scotland Yard detectives, Thompson and Thomson, are on the trail of a master pickpocket.
If that seems like a rather brisk intro, that’s how it feels in the cinema. Once past the opening sequence, which was drawn in the style of the original comic that had me drowning in nostalgia before the film had even begun, there’s no messing around. It’s just straight into the mystery with no ambiguity about who the bad guys are and who’s on Tintin’s side. We’ve got three whole books to get through here! Well, not quite. The story has been predominantly pulled together from the classic Hergé comic books The Crab With the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure but with events reordered and all those pesky opium references taken out.
The film is a lot of fun with the action on full steam ahead. It’s packed with exciting chase scenes, multiple guns fired by accuracy-impaired henchmen and minimal exposition. There’s plenty of physical comedy, especially when Thompson and Thomson are around and kids won’t be able to resist Snowy’s appeal. Tintin’s terrier frequently seems like he’s smarter than any of his human associates and steals every scene he’s in, although Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock gives the animated dog a good run for his money.
Allegedly (i.e. according to Wikipedia), Steven Spielberg went back and forth on animation versus live action and it was Peter Jackson who persuaded him to take the motion capture route. I can’t decide whether it was worth the effort or whether I missed anything by going 2D. The most I can say is that the production doesn’t get in the way of the film. My fears of an Uncanny Valley feel were allayed and overall it’s technically impressive, if not beautiful. The animation aspect has allowed for the string of spectacular action sequences to be made at all, while at the same time the pratfalls and blows to the head don’t make you wince, in the same way that Daffy Duck landing on his head isn’t cringe-worthy.
This family-friendly adventure is thoroughly entertaining but it’s good, not great. Despite seeing a man killed early on, the slapstick humour means that any feeling that our heroes are ever in real peril is extinguished and the ending is a bit of a damp squib after all the fireworks leading up to it. Tintin‘s makers have set themselves up well for a sequel though and there’s no reason to think that this isn’t a franchise that couldn’t run and run and run. And run.
There are a lot of things to get excited about with the upcoming, Spielberg-directed, Tintin film. Getting us jumping about is that the scriptwriting credits read like the ultimate Mild Concern wish list: Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish were all tasked with stringing three of Hergé’s books into one film. That’s two trios of awesome right there. Then move down to the cast, bursting with Great British talent: you’ve got Gollum, James Bond, Billy Elliot and Westley (or Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Jamie Bell and Cary Elwes, if you’re fussy about your actors’ names.)
But we have fears too. There’s the obvious worry that no film could do justice to the original Tintin books, or even the (classic) animated series. Then there’s the hyper-realistic, motion-capture animation, which had me examining the trailer expecting the same creepy vibe I got off The Polar Express. Check out my conclusions, and other uninformed comments, after the jump.
A few days ago a screener copy of Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones was leaked online and, as reported here, Jackson is far from pleased. He has gone so far as to say that “those responsible for the leak will be brought to justice with the maximum prosecution of the law in mind” and that “anyone who is caught illegally downloading the film will also be prosecuted to the fullest”, while expressing concern over recouping production cost.
I won’t even begin to consider just how he plans to identify those who download the film but believe that this is hardly likely to damage the movies profits.
There is no evidence to suggest that everyone who downloads this film with give it a miss at the cinema or that everyone who downloads it would have paid to seen it otherwise. The only harm this could do to the film would be if it recieved a negative reaction, which would be the film’s own fault, though this is conceievable at reviews so far are mixed.
I would go so far as to say that sending out DVD screeners to voters before a films release and not expecting the film to be leaked is naive, especially when you have delayed the release of the film. Today’s consumers want new content immediately and if they can only obtain it illegally in the first instance they will do.
Once the film has been released I will look again at if the leak has had any effect on profit margin or if, like Wolverine and Zombieland before it, this is a lot of fuss over nothing.