Saturday, December 15, 2012

‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’

Review by James Colt Harrison

Author J.R.R. Tolkien (1892- 1973) was a British Officer during World War I, was a professor, poet and respected gentleman. He was also quite brilliant and a man with a great imagination. He used that imagination to conjure up some of the most beloved books in history. Selling in the millions, “The Lord Of The Rings” and “The Hobbit” were just two of his fantasy-inspired books to capture the interest of young and old everywhere around the world.

One of those adults fascinated with the stories is film director Peter Jackson. He made a name for himself by creating The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, which became a world-wide hits. The films reaped more than $3 billion at the box office. Jackson won an Oscar®  in 2003 for directing Lord of the Rings: The Return Of The King.

By 2007, Peter Jackson was signed to produce a film of The Hobbit, with Guillermo del Toro directing. The two men collaborated on the script for months, with del Toro flying back and forth to New Zealand every few weeks. Also working with them on the script were Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.

When the film was delayed time and time again for various reasons        ( budgets, set designs, legal wrangling, etc), del Toro stepped out as director in May 2010. Because of the financial woes of MGM studios, del Toro stated “In light of ongoing delays in the setting of a start date for filming,”(I will) “take leave from helming.” On June 25, 2010, Peter Jackson was signed on as the new director.

Jackson saw a greater scope for the film and its associated stories in Tolkien’s other books. Although originally planned as a two-part film, Jackson now realized in July 2012 he needed to add a third film to do the story arc justice. Also, to capture accurately the imagination and beauty of the story, Jackson decided to add 3D to the filming process for all three films. The second film will have the title Desolation of Smaug (2013), and the third and final film will be titled There and Back Again (2014).

Digging the plot out of a very involved and complicated film was not easy, but in a capsule, Wizard Gandolf (Ian McKellen) hires laid-back hobbit Bilbo Baggins (British actor Martin Freeman) to accompany 13 dwarves on a quest to reclaim their homeland on Lonely Mountain from the nasty dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch). The lead dwarf is played by 6’-2” tall British actor Richard Armitrage, who was shrunk down with computer magic.

The film is populated with many ugly monsters and giant animals that will probably scare the daylights out of anyone younger than 12. They scared me! The point is that the plot is not the most important aspect of the movie. No, it’s the special effects, without which there would be no film.

A finer use of 3D I have rarely seen ( Avatar and Hugo come to mind), and cinematagrapher Andrew Lesnie has used his three dimensional camera for terrific effects and unending depth of field. The 3D, of course, enhances all the special effects by concept artists John Howe and Alan Lee as whipped up by the Weta Workshop and Weta Digital. How did they do that? It’s a question you will be asking many times. It’s simply stupendous, to coin a Hollywood verb. Audiences will come to see the wizardry done not only by Ian McKellen, but by the talented crew behind the camera and in the model shops. The film is wildly entertaining, and most of the thrills and chills are created by the special effects.

Special note should be made about Andy Serkis and his acting and creation of the bony, half naked and bug-eyed creature Gollum. It was all done with motion-capture techniques and green screen. But Serkis’ actions and emoting are terrific scene stealers during his brief encounter with Baggins (Martin Freeman).

The Hobbit is certainly a film of stature, filled with exhilarating battle scenes, and one that can be enjoyed throughout its lengthy running time.

Others in the cast are Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Fry, Billy Connelly, Barry Humphries, Elijah Wood, Christopher Lee.


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