Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit
Published: 13 December, 2012
by DAN CARRIER
Directed by Peter Jackson
Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars
IT was 10 years ago we sat through the marathon movies that made up the Lord of the Rings trilogy and we should be thankful director Peter Jackson has given us ample time to catch our breath – because he is back at it again.
While you could argue that The Hobbit, the precursor to LOTR, and essentially a bedtime story for children, deserves to be shoehorned into a watchable two-hour film, Jackson has instead plumped for an epic and carved the book into three parts, each clocking in at just under three hours.
This could cause the most Hobbit-loving among us to groan at the time-consuming tale confronting us, but the simple fact is this: Jackson has taken the formula of the Oscar-schnaffling trilogy and done it again.
This is the story of how a little halfling called Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) came to have in his possession a ring that symbolises all the evil in Middle Earth. His little Hobbit-home in a green hill is invaded by dwarves and Gandalf the wizard, and he is recruited to take a voyage to a mountain to help reclaim a fortune stolen by Smaug the Dragon. The film kicks off when we meet an ageing Bilbo as he is preparing for the birthday party that kicks off Lord of the Rings. He tells his nephew Frodo he would like to share the complete story of his past adventures – and suddenly we are thrown head-first into a tale of about a lost kingdom, a gigantic stash of precious metals, and an evil dragon, and how they took Bilbo from the comforts of a groaning dinner table and a pipe to smoke to unimaginable hardships, danger and adventure.
Scenes swish past with such dash it’s at times hard to take it all in: a battle between goblins and Bilbo Baggins’ gang of treasure-seeking dwarves in a hollowed-out mountain contains vertiginous rope-and-wood walkways for the punch-ups to commence upon. Characters risk falls of thousands of feet as they swish axes at one another. It is, ahem, an elf and safety nightmare, and a stunning piece of cinema.
There has been much debate since Tolkien published his book about what it all means. Does the Shire represent a pre-Industrial Revolution world, an alternate reality as dreamed up by Laurie Lee, a strange mix of Devon, Dorset and Gloucestershire? In this film version, it’s a gentle, rural world that makes you wonder if Tolkien was immersed in the writings of William Cobbett. Then there are the evil baddies from the east – be it Nazis, or Communists, or even industrialists with their dark satanic mills – who want to scorch the earth of this peasant idyll.
You could go on forever in this vein: Tolkien’s fable has so many political and religious references (the appearance of eagles swooping in to help the heroes could be read as a metaphor for American might) it could drive you mad acknowledging them.
It is also a very gender-orientated tale – hardly surprising considering it was written as an adventure story for young lads in 1937.
It means there is only one female character – Galadreil (Cate Blanchett) and she is an Elfen Queen wearing basically a virgin-white wedding dress.
But, simply put, if you can ignore Tolkien’s failings, and the era he penned his works, this film has leaped with swashbuckling glee from the page and onto the screen.