Three Stars

I loved The Lord of the Rings movies like they were my unborn triplets, so when news of a Hobbit movie broke, I found myself damp with excitement. With Guillermo del Toro signed up to direct, what could go wrong? Well, several years later, what we have is another Peter Jackson movie, though it has del Toro’s fingerprints all over it, which explores Middle-earth in roughly the same manner as his previous three movies (except for King Kong and The Lovely Bones. duh). The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is like putting on your favourite old slippers and then stabbing an orc in the face with a blue sword.

Martin Freeman takes on the role of Bilbo, and he’s as far away from Slough now as it’s possible to be. He is certainly plausible as a younger version of Ian Holm (who introduces the film in a prologue with Elijah Wood) and seems to enjoy his romp across Middle-earth, even though it mainly consists of him standing frowning whilst the dwarves act like complete dickheads. Which brings me to the dwarves, a seemingly interminable gang of short, fat troglodytes led by the most human-looking member, Thorin Oakenshield. They’re played by a strange variety of British TV and stage actors (the most famous of which seemed to be Ken Stott and James Nesbitt) and are certainly an unusual centrepiece for a major blockbuster, but one that only seemed to grate about 15% of the time.

Sir iMac is back as Gandalf, and seems to be having fun with the role, as he leads his band of misfits towards the Lonely Mountain, via familiar sights like Rivendell (where we get to check in with Elrond and Galadriel – they seem well) and the caves where Gollum lives. Gollum’s return is very welcome, although the ‘Riddles in the Dark’ sequence is dragged out for about fifteen minutes.

Which brings me to The Hobbit’s central problem. For a film that is only one third of a very slender book, it’s colossally long: about 2 hours 45 minutes. You’ve got to wonder whether anything at all was left on the cutting room floor: every piece of superfluous detail is kept in, meaning you’ll be hard pressed not to feel that this could quite easily have been 45 minutes shorter.

But that’s a small(ish) price to pay for the technological advances that this film marks. The 48pfs 3D marks the demise of ghosting that has made previous 3D experiences so frustrating (James Cameron must be kicking himself). It might grate on the eye to begin with, because of our familiarity with the motion blur of 24fps, but once you give it a chance then you’ll find that this is the most immersive 3D experience this side of SeaWorld. Though it has all sorts of problems with it, if there was ever a movie that’s worth the admission fee (plus a Coke to keep you going throughout the film, so you don’t have to resort to drinking your own piss for survival) then this is it.

This film should both delight and frustrate Lord of the Rings fans, leaving them champing at the bit for the next two instalments.