"The comment you 9 years since the last LOTR epic and it’s time to go back to Middle Earth. God I’ve missed it. So much of cinema is just so bland, so tired.
But not when you take source material from one of the most cherished books ever written and put it in the hands of one of the finest directors in modern film.
After the success of the LOTR trilogy and the controversy surrounding the decision to turn the much shorter Hobbit into 3 films, expectations were high. Huge in fact.
Jackson does not disappoint.
He takes both a purist and Director’s Cut approach to the film, relying heavily on Tolkien’s 125 pages of footnotes to The Lord of the Rings. There are also two dwarf songs while inside Bag End (the 2nd one profound).
And why not? The Middle Earth universe is so rich in plots and characters, it’s a film makers treasure trove.
For those of you that don’t know the story (really?), hobbit Bilbo Baggins is tempted out of his rural idyll by wizard Gandalf and 13 Dwarves on a quest to reclaim their lost kingdom of Erebor.
One should also point out that it was a treasure hungry dragon, Smaug, who claimed Erebor, taking possession of the Arkenstone, a precious and powerful gem. Revered by the dwarves.
Jackson has reunited with key LOTR collaborators Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens (screenplay), cinematographer Andrew Lesnie, production designer Dan Hennah and the Weta effects shop.
The film also follows a similar structure to Fellowship of the Ring, most notably very early on by showing us the back story via the dramatic Destruction of Erebor by Smaug (without revealing the full awesomeness of the dragon of course).
While this does lead to a sense of Déjà vu (esp. if you’ve seen all 3 LOTR films around 20 times like me), this is unavoidable given the similarities of the 2 books.
Introducing the dwarves and the supper at Bag End is played for laughs and works. As one of the dwarves tells Bilbo while describing Smaug ‘Think furnace... with wings.’
Speaking of Bilbo, Martin Freeman is excellent as the mild-mannered hobbit. ‘What is your weapon of choice?’ dwarf leader Thorin asks him: ‘I have some skill at conkers.’
The real adventure begins once the company leave The Shire, and head East on the quest into more forbidding country.
Once again the real star here is New Zealand with more of Jackson’s breath taking camera swooping over, under and through the luxurious landscapes.
On the way important plot points are developed including the introduction of The Necromancer, an early version of The Witch King of Angmar, recently shacked up at the ruined Dol Guldur. There’s also Azog, the huge, pale Orc chieftain, seeking revenge on Thorin who chopped his arm off.
Best of all is Gandalf’s eccentric fellow-Istari, Radagast the Brown (brilliantly played by Sylvester McCoy), who first noticed that a “dark power has found it's way back into the world” and investigated why the creatures in his forest were dying. True to the books hippy overtones, he’s also a Shroom Head (Gandalf is, of course, a Stoner).
Key set pieces are the Troll sequence (comically played out 3 stooges style) and the magnificent Storm giants, given far more persona than the in the book, hewn from the living rock and dramatically altering the landscape around them.
This greater departure from the original text is consistent throughout the film. When the party pass through Rivendell, there’s a marvellous reunion of Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman. It’s simply awesome to see these hugely powerful characters on the big screen again. Pure magic.
The episode with the goblins under the mountain is very reminiscent of the Urak Hai scences from LOTR, but this time instead of the nasty Lurtz, we have the amusing and Jabba The Hut-esque Goblin King, brilliantly voiced by Barry Humphries. His demise at the hand of Gandalf is hilarious.
The arrival on screen of Gollum (played again by the superb Andy Serkis) was greeted with audible gasps. It’s hard to think of greater villain in cinema. Malevolent and pathetic in equal measure, and completely credible. Denied of trophies 1st time around, surely Serkis deserve rich rewards on this occasion?
As in LOTR Jackson and his writers are fond of name checking the chapters from the book. On escaping from the goblins under the mountain, only to be chased by some much meaner looking Wargs + Orc riders, Gandalf remarks “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.” Indeed.
This leads to a fabulous fight sequence and cliff hanger with the gore count noticeably up a notch with some nasty deaths including a full be-heading. Yes please.
Even though we know it’s coming, the rescue by the eagles is spectacular, providing one of the high points in the film. There’s a key moment towards the end of the film when Bilbo understands why the dwarves are willing to sacrifice their lives in pursuit of their homeland; he would do the same.
One has to mention the magnificent score by Howard Shore, whose music for the original trilogy has been reprised. You may have forgotten the themes but as soon as you hear them, all the associated emotions come flooding back in waves of glorious sonic equity.
The film is apparently a huge technical achievement. I didn’t even notice the much debated 48 frames per second “issue.” I was astonished and engaged for nearly 3 hours; simply lost in Middle Earth.
There’s no hint of disappointment or frustration as the film ends either, with the party gathered together on a fist of rock looking East over the vast swathes of Mirkwood towards the awesome Lonely Mountain.
The next two instalments will be subtitled The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again (the original subtitle of the entire novel). There’s plenty to look forward to, but for now just gorge yourself on this."