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Monday, 17 December 2012

THIS WEEK: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey/Babycall

0 - No Redeeming Feature
1 - Poor
2 - Passable
3 - Good.  Rent it.
4 - Full Price
5 - Must See!


I admire Peter Jackson, coming from the world of low-budget horror, his desire to take on the epic Lord Of The Rings, and ability to deliver what he did, is hugely impressive. His love for the source material was very clear, and despite anything about that trilogy with which I may have my reservations, it was a near masterpiece. Now here we are, about a decade on, with Martin Freeman taking on the role of Bilbo Baggins, in what we could consider a prequel, though they were never written that way; truth be told, in the long-run it won't matter which way round the movies were made, this is a separate story and, importantly, a different tone.

There are many good things about this film, much to be admired, but Jackson's adoration for the source is still well on show, and unfortunately this means he wants to cram a lot of superfluous material in to what should have been a straightforward adaption of a children's book. Whether you be a die hard fan who remains excited about Jackson's decision to include all sorts of other Tolkein material that isn't strictly 'The Hobbit', or a casual viewer who does not know the first thing about Tolkein's tale, one thing is unarguable, this film is far too long. With an extremely baggy introduction at bag end, and an awful lot of exposition, it is a good forty minutes or so before we hit any sort of movement in the narrative; this would not have mattered so much if a lot of the introductory material didn't end up feeling quite so inconsequential. Then there is the struggle to balance the lightness of 'The Hobbit' with the tone set by 'Lord of the Rings'; on one hand the film displays a sort of whimsy, on another it wants to be dark and epic, the prior feeling at times strangely awkward when punctuating the latter.  As prime examples of how misjudged we're talking, take a look at the scene with the trolls, and any elements involving Radagast the Brown.  For this critic at least, it means you never quite feel completely comfortable and 'in gear' with the movie; I think it speaks volumes that the film is at its obvious best when it is most like the previous trilogy, the Riddles in the Dark scene with Gollum clearly standing out as a highlight.
Then we have the choice to shoot at double the normal film speed; with many theatres still catching up with this technology, the likelihood is this won't bother most who see it projected at normal speed, but why bother shooting this way? It is observed now that it tends to make things feel too real, and remove the magic of cinema from the piece, something I would have expected Jackson to recognise quite early on and avoid. There is no reason to see this any way other than 2D at normal speed.

Do not get me wrong, An Unexpected Journey is an enjoyable film for many reasons, not least of which are the performances of Martin Freeman, Andy Serkis as Gollum, looking and sounding even more incredible, and Sir Ian McKellen, who can make even the most dull moment seem like more; the score is typically gorgeous and Jackson's love and respect for the material is very clear on screen.  It is fair to say, however, that based on the evidence of this movie alone, perhaps a bit more discipline and the creation of one 210 minute film may have been more wise; this is a movie that should have been incredible, but is overly bloated and feels, at times, burdened by a little too much indulgence, and so ends up being just very good.

See it at the cinema now.

3.5 / 5

Catch it if you like:  The Lord of the Rings, Willow


This film has been on hold for a while, it would seem; since this was made Noomi Rapace has become a name to follow, so Babycall is well worth checking out for the sake of curiosity, if nothing else.  Sadly, a great central performance by Rapace, as a mother moved with her son into a new area to protect them from the threat of her ex partner, along with the film's good intentions, is not quite enough to save it.  Pal Sletaune creates great atmosphere and sense of place, drama and tension, builds it nicely and reminds me very much of classic Polanski, but when he starts to play his hand and get clever, he unfortunately ties himself up in knots and leaves you wondering what went wrong with the last act. I'm a big fan of Noomi Rapace; I don't doubt her for a second, and it must be said there is a lot of promise here, but sadly, by the end, it is little more than a good but failed effort.

Catch it on DVD now


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