I read The Hobbit as a teenager, and enjoyed the book more than The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I’ve been excited about seeing it brought to film for a long time. Thankfully, for me at least, the first installment of The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, lives up to the hype.
Martin Freeman is well suited to the role of Bilbo Baggins because Bilbo is an everyman character who the audience can relate to. But it’s Richard Armitage’s Thorin who really has to carry the film. It is Thorin’s quest to regain his lost kingdom that leads Bilbo on his ‘Unexpected Journey’ and Thorin’s company of dwarves which forms the majority of the cast. And Armitage takes the role of the fallen king and runs with it.
There are familiar faces making cameos too, including Christopher Lee as Saruman the White (before he turned evil) and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, and Andy Serkis once again steals the film as Golumn.
Serkis is always compelling but it’s the role of Gollum that has defined his career. And that’s no bad thing, because playing a computer-generated deranged creature with a split personality and an all-consuming obsession is no mean feat. Once again Serkis balances Gollum’s darkness with Smeagol’s playful and pitiful nature brilliantly and the game of riddles between Gollum and Bilbo is played to perfection.
There’s a much lighter tone to The Hobbit, which is retained in the film, with joyous dwarves acting like a bunch of naughty children and getting into scrapes that require Gandalf’s magic or quick-thinking from Bilbo to get them out of.
There’s still thousands of orcs, lots of fighting and some fairly gory death and dismemberment on show but comic relief is provided by Fili and Kili – young, excitable dwarfs played by New Zealand born Dean O’ Gorman and Irish actor Aidan Turner of BBC Three’s excellent Being Human.
Still, the sense of menace ‘the necromancer’ brings underpins the whole film and Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance – though largely restricted to a voiceover and a shadowy silhouette – promises a terrifying new threat that will continue to evolve.
There’s been some disgruntled fans complaining that the only reason such a short novel has been turned into three films is to cash in on the franchise. But there’s so much already packed into the first film – and woven into each page of The Hobbit, that certainly at least two films would seem necessary.
I can’t wait to see The Desolation of Smaug later this year and will most likely be watching all of The Lord of the Rings films in the very near future,