While Peter Jackson’s eagerly anticipated film version of J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey has been topping British box office charts, critical reviews have definitely been divided as to its quality, with the film running a gamut of star ratings. Certainly there has been praise for this first instalment in a new trilogy, yet whether there is enough to justify a better performance in the US than The Lord of the Rings is so far debatable.
Various praise-worthy aspects include an almost universal liking for the scene with Gollum near the end of the film, mainly due to a delight in Andy Serkis’ continuing expertise in the role he took on in the earlier films. Several sources, including The Guardian, Empire, Independent and Daily Telegraph have praised Serkis’ performance, with the latter claiming his character “steals the entire film”, while Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian commended him on his portrayal of Gollum’s “animal paranoia”. Martin Freeman, too, was generally admired as the eponymous character, with Bradshaw praising him as “just right” for the role; a crucial compliment as the character of Bilbo will be of utmost importance to the film series. Empire also approved of his understated development of the character, even though the screenplay left more room for dramatic shots of mountains than soul-searching. Yet even these impressive vistas were apparently a critical delight as praise of the cinematography mentioned that the landscapes were presented to great effect, perhaps once more benefiting the New Zealand tourist board.
However, The Hobbit did take less in its first week than the wildly-successful second and third instalments of The Lord of the Rings, a fact which appears odd as one would imagine that fans would be keen to return to Middle Earth. Perhaps this dampening of enthusiasm is due to pervasive criticism, mostly focused around the film’s pace. This was flagged up even in largely positive reviews such as the one by Dan Jolin in Empire, who stated that “despite the running time, there is still the occasional sense that Jackson is rushing.”
Criticism of the plot’s shortcomings have been followed by accusations of padding in many sources, mostly prompted by the decision to split the film into three parts rather than two. The desire to make the experience last as long as possible may be praised by some fans, yet was harshly criticised by the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin, who likened the film to a “dire, fan-written tribute” due to its apparently poor structure. Additionally, a common complaint was that the innovative decision to shoot using forty-eight rather than twenty-four frames per second lent an almost fake sheen to the action, thus depriving it of any mystery.
More accessible to the family film audience, The Hobbit may be a let-down to many fans after the technicality of The Lord of the Rings”
One of the more interesting points made by a review talked of the film’s relationship to the Lord of the Rings, with Empire complaining that The Hobbit was treated like a prequel when it was actually written first. References were made to the main trilogy of impending doom and the significance of the One Ring, giving a tie-in feel. Yet, Jackson’s first Middle Earth trilogy was something of a phenomenon and it would seem ridiculous to ignore an already developed story so ingrained in the public imagination. Being based on Jackson’s earlier endeavours, the success of The Hobbit, in whatever quantity, seemed predictable. One cannot deny that the film joins a pre-existing “wildly successful franchise” (David Gritten, The Telegraph).
More accessible to the family film audience, The Hobbit may be a let-down to many fans after the technicality of The Lord of the Rings. For now, critical opinion has viewed this first of three films as a somewhat novel aside to the main Oscar-winning triology, crowned by The Return of the King. However, it seems that the most widely praised elements – epic Jacksonian cinematography, solid acting from Serkis and Freeman and moreover, everywhere where it counts, alongside Middle Earth’s newfound warm feel – ensure that it is likely to continue to find success.
For the Nouse review of The Hobbit click here.