Blu-ray / VOD film review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition
More Goblin King...6
Bilbo vs Gollum7
Ian Loring | On 11, Nov 2013
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Aidan Gillen, James Nesbitt, Sylvester McCoy
Watch online: Apple TV (iTunes) / TalkTalk TV
With the middle installment of Peter Jackson’s new trilogy soon to be upon us, the big man settles back into his Extended Edition rhythm with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey getting the treatment with an extra 13 minutes sewn back into the film.
Going in, it’s easy to be apprehensive about re-visiting an even longer cut of the film: the first time round, the horror to the eyes that is 48 frames per second created an experience that didn’t capture the magic of any part of the original The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Happily, though, in the surroundings of a sofa and a large cup of coffee, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition plays out as a bit of a treat, albeit one which still has problems.
As a novel, The Hobbit is unabashedly aimed more towards children, but Jackson’s adaptation makes a fair fist of trying to capture the same four-quadrant demographic of The Lord of the Rings. In fact, the worst moments are ones you suspect under-10s would enjoy much more than older viewers. The first act, which sets up the wider story but then fluffs about with dwarves overeating and washing dishes in Bilbo Baggins’ (Freeman) home, is jarring; a band of homeless men, feeling melancholic about their lot in life, joking about while farting.
There’s more goofing about in this cut, which slows things down, but the sense of camaraderie among the dwarves is actually better laid out by some of the additional material; the gang drinking and singing in the stuffy confines of Riverdell is more endearing than in the first act, when you’re willing the story to get going.
Once the journey begins, though, there’s an awful lot to like. The dwarves are a varied and likeable bunch whose mission is clear in personal terms – they want their home back – but in the extended cut is also given a wider context by a scene containing the simple reveal that if Gandalf can get them their home back, it shores up their defences for any further conflict. This line alone atones for what some perceived to be a fault with the original cut: that this adventure felt disconnected to the story at large.
Richard Armitage cuts a stoic, strong but sad figure as dwarf leader Thorin and while some moments feel like they are trying to mould him a little too directly from Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn, he does manage to make his own presence felt. James Nesbitt and Aidan Gillen stand out among the other dwarves with an infectious energy and humour, although you hope the ensemble get more to do in future instalments
Peter Jackson takes to Tolkein’s world like a duck to water. While he wasn’t initially going to direct the film, and indeed it would be interesting to see what original director Guillermo Del Toro makes of the film’s over-reliance on CG versus practical make-up, this does fit overall with the previous trilogy; Andrew Lesnie’s digital cinematography feels of a piece and the strain of silly humour melds well with the more heroic moments. Howard Shore’s score replays established themes but gives The Hobbit its own sonic identity, the theme associated with the dwarves symbolising their sad but brave plight.
The film’s signature sequence also recalls the original films directly with the Riddles in the Dark passage proving to be an intense and captivating sequence that connects the sadness inherent in Andy Serkis’ Gollum to that which we see in the later films. As Bilbo, Martin Freeman is warm, witty and – increasingly – a hero. His performance fits the bill perfectly.
A note on the Extended Edition material here, though. While the moments mentioned already are very welcome, as are some deeper plot elements in the prologue, there’s a musical sequence involving Barrie Humphries’ Goblin King, which was wisely excised previously and slightly bogs down the third act.
As a stand-alone, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the weakest of Jackson’s Middle-earth films but it’s got more than enough charm and dynamism to see us through. In the context of this new trilogy, it may well end up playing perfectly but for the moment, it’s a minor success – now made even bigger.
Read Part 2 of our The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Extended Edition review, in which we look at the extras on The Hobbit Blu-ray compared to iTunes.