British actor Martin Freeman stars as Bilbo Baggins in The
Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Photo supplied.
Fire up your foot-long clay pipes, lean back, smile
and breathe a sigh of relief, good people of the Shire, for the
first instalment of The Hobbit is a hit. For the most part.
This has been a truly unexpected five-year journey, starring
pre-production limbo, a change of director, legal disputes,
studio bankruptcy, government moves to keep production Kiwi,
illness, the secret travelling circus for location shooting,
the rebuilding of Hobbiton, the stretch of a short children's
book into three movies, the welfare of four-legged
''background artists'', a faster frame-rate, a world
premiere, Air New Zealand's flying billboard, the staking of
the country's international tourism strategy and now the
weight of expectation heavier than all the gold in Erebor.
So now with The Hobbit playing in every cinema near you for
the foreseeable future, let the smoke clear from Gandalf the
Grey's fireworks and let's see if it is a good film.
Martin Freeman, the master of the baffled reaction, is
perfectly cast as Bilbo Baggins, who is swept out of his
comfort zone by Gandalf (McKellen), without much in the way
of reason, to help a bloated cast of 13 comical dwarves led
by steely-eyed Thorin Oakenshield (Armitage) on their quest
to reclaim their kingdom from fire-belching dragon Smaug.
There's a sense of Jackson getting the band back together and
a sheer delight in seeing all those familiar characters back
on the big screen.
A decade since The Return of the King is a long time in
computer-generated imagery and the frequent battle sequences
are suitably massive and hyper-paced and exploit the
advantages of 3-D to the hilt, with physics-defying camera
swoops last seen in the Jackson-produced Tintin.
We're now able to see up close every pore and sinew of Gollum
(Andy Serkis), everyone's favourite deformed, schizophrenic
However, this first part of a new trilogy is hindered by the
need to set up so many of J. R. R. Tolkien's characters and
scenarios for a later payoff.
Ian Holm, as the elder Baggins in The Lord of the Rings set
60 years later, shockingly changes for a split-second into a
demon possessed when he takes one look at the One Ring
hanging around Frodo's neck.
It's that battle for Bilbo's soul, touched upon in his war of
riddles with Gollum, that makes for the engrossing drama
missing from An Unexpected Journey, and that's why we trust
the best of The Hobbit is yet to come in The Desolation of
Smaug and There and Back Again.