The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey acts as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy and follows Bilbo Baggins (the Hobbit uncle of The Lord of the Rings’ Frodo), as he becomes embroiled in a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug.
Following a visit from the wizard Gandalf the Grey, Bilbo joins a company of thirteen dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield and along the way meets the infamous Gollum and his ‘precious’ ring which gives the wearer the power of invisibility.
As you would expect, the visuals are breathtaking, the action sequences brilliantly realised and there is no doubt that fans of Tolkein’s work and the previous trilogy will love this cinematic version of the book which first introduced us to Middle Earth.
However, where the Lord of the Rings covered one book per film, the Hobbit, a much shorter novel, has been extended to fill a trilogy all of it’s own.
This has been achieved by taking elements from the Lord of the Rings novels and the appendices which were not used in the original trilogy and by adding scenes alluded to in the source material. Some elements of the book have also been tweaked but this does not detract from the storyline.
Some of the cast have reprised their roles from the original trilogy, such as Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Ian Holm (old Bilbo Baggins), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Christopher Lee (Saruman) and the master of motion-capture performance, Andy Serkis (Gollum).
Joining these established Middle Earth thespians are Martin Freeman (from Ricky Gervais’ The Office, Dr Watson in the BBC’s Sherlock, Love Actually and Nativity) as Bilbo Baggins, former Spook and Guy of Gisbourne Richard Armitage (Thorin), former Being Human vampire Aidan Turner, former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy (Radagast)and TV regular James Nesbitt (Bofur).
The film also includes Freeman’s Sherlock co-star Benedict Cumberbatch (soon to be seen in the forthcoming Star Trek sequel) as the voice of Smaug and the Necromancer, Stephen Fry as the Master of Laketown and Barry Humphries sheds his Dame Edna Everage persona to become the Gobin King, which to some, may not seem like much of a departure!
The movie really is an experience and while some of the padding is unnecessary, it is more than made up for by the visual feast created by Peter Jackson.
Despite my initial reservations, Freeman is perfectly cast as Bilbo and his understated nods and mannerisms really bring the character to life. McKellen and Serkis are once again on fine form and the latter’s platitudes for his portrayal of Gollum are well deserved while McKellen seems very comfortable and at ease as the wizard Gandalf.
My only criticism, apart from the padding, was the use of 3D which seemed more of an afterthought and there were few places in the movie when I thought this had been used to good effect.
However, fans of the original movies will no doubt flock to devour more Middle Earth adventures and with the holiday season in full swing and the awful weather covering the country, this is probably the ideal time to lose yourself in the cinema for just under 3 hours. You certainly won’t feel short changed on the running time.