Monday 10 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Remember the bit at the end of The Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King when the giant eagles conveniently turned up to whisk our heroes to safety just when it looked like all was lost? Annoying, wasn't it? "Why," asked the entire cinemagoing world, "didn't they just fly the ring all the way from The Shire to Mount Doom and drop it in, thereby saving everyone an awful lot of bother?" But we let it go, because the preceding twenty-seven-and-a-quarter hours of Middle-earth magic we'd sat through were too good to be undone by a clumsy deus ex machina. What's a little harder to let go is the exact same plot device turning up again at a crucial moment in this, the very next film in the franchise. I suppose if you've never seen The Lord Of The Rings it wouldn't matter, but I suspect quite a few people have. And those people have every right to feel hoodwinked by this suspiciously familiar turn of events.

Like many sequels and prequels, familiarity is An Unexpected Journey's biggest problem. With the shock and awe of Peter Jackson and FX boffins Weta's astonishing new cinematic landscape ten years behind us, this feels like The Fellowship Of The Ring made in a parallel universe: one in which Jackson failed to nail the flow of his script, forgot to connect his big set-pieces together coherently and was stuck with twelve interchangeable dwarves instead of nine distinct and properly-drawn characters.
L-R: Dobbin, Boffin, Boggins, Stinky, Minky, Groin, Boing,
Fidget, Wally, Sputum, Scrotum, Bumhole and Susan

But ironically, familiarity is also this film's best friend. Sinking back into Middle-earth is like flopping into a well-loved sofa, and it's hard not to forgive it its faults for all that greatness we take for granted: spectacular visuals, excellent performances (Martin Freeman and Tim From The Office have never felt so disparate), a stirring score and Gollum, still cinema's greatest CG character.

And while those set-pieces may occasionally feel forced - hello, Stone Giants - they are, for the most part, incredible. Jackson's action is leagues above much of modern cinema, and he handles the ambitious scale of his (and Tolkien's) imaginings with effortless skill. A prologue teasing Smaug The Magnificent (this trilogy's Sauron The Bastard) is thunderously exciting, while a scrap between those Stone Giants is glorious fun, even if it's cock-waving for its own sake. Only an extended rumble in the hall of the goblin king overstays its welcome, and not just because the goblin king doesn't look anything like he's supposed to.
The eyeshadow's completely wrong for a start

The smaller moments which defined and grounded the Rings trilogy are also flawlessly executed here. Bilbo's riddles in the dark with Gollum once again show the creature in the most pitiable light despite his foul wretchedness, and when Bilbo eventually twigs and explains to the dirty baker's dozen why he's joined their suicidal mission, Jackson and Freeman pull the scene off with aplomb.

Sadly you're never too far away from a pointless meander (there's no way Sylvester McCoy's eccentric wizard Radagast The Brown doesn't get called Radagast The Shit behind his back) or another convenient, life-saving intervention from Gandalf and his sonic screwdriver magic staff. Nevertheless, this is no Phantom Menace, and it gets by on enough charm and rousing adventure to make the sequels a tantalising prospect. As long as they're shorter, better written, have a few more interesting characters, less Radagast, more Smaug, and NO FUCKING EAGLES.


  1. The problem with books adaptations, they have to respect their source material. And the eagles are a big part of the Hobbit lore. It might seem easy, but it's the book...
    Same for Gandalf popping in and out of the picture.

    1. Well, Peter Jackson isn't scared of tweaking the source material here and there. I just think that the eagles could have been tweaked quite hard.

  2. Doesn't the appearance of the eagle here explain why he showed up in FOTR and ROTK? It does in the book. I'm genuinely asking the question because I haven't seen the film yet...not out here until bleedin' boxing day!

    1. Not really. Gandalf uses exactly the same trick as he does in FOTR (and, by extension, ROTK) to extricate himself and his pals from otherwise certain doom. It was a nice trick then; now it's been used three times you wonder why he doesn't use them every time they're in a spot of bother.

      Remember when Indy tried to repeat his gun-versus-knife gag in Temple Of Doom, only it didn't work and he had to resort to plan B? That's how it should have been done here.

      It's really not the end of the world though, I should probably stop going on about it.

  3. Well there will be more fu**ing eagles, unfortunately for you. They will show up again at the Battle of Five Armies.