Spoilers alert – spoilers ahoy – spoilers spoilers everywhere. – for you see even if you have read the book, I really don’t want to give you the misapprehension you know what is about to occur. Stop now….don’t say I didn't warn you.
The film begins with a bang –an eruption of splendour as we are shown the caverns of Erebor, the might of the dwarves, the sudden terror of the great dragon Smaug. It gets the passions going, the hopes building like the very best starter you have ever had, followed by alas, a slow, hazy wistful drawn out introduction to all other things middle earth. The world’s greatest appetiser is followed by porridge of the very worst kind.
Sickly sweet and without change in pace, tempo, or in the case of our eponymous hero: facial expression.
The director does try to inject into this film the background, the character and the feeling of history that some felt was lacking for the previous trilogy. There is a prolonged detour through Rivendell, there is Radagast the Brown: a scenery chewing, bird crap covered, rabbit coveting turn by Sylvester McCoy and there are nice touches as we journey about the character of the dwarves and the swords they eventually wield.
Thorin is suitably heroic while the others will come into their own in the subsequent outings. But I can’t help but wonder if they have over egged this a little too much. The full audio cast recording done by the BBC for the Hobbit comes in at three hours and forty five minutes. With trailers and the queue for popcorn this is how long I spent in the cinema for the first of three installments.
This is a beautiful work of art, but without soul. It is over made, over worked and in the final analysis, it under performs being neither adult nor children’s fare. We are drawn into a long journey that we want to take, but despite threats of Trolls, Goblins and even an angry Christopher Lee, we never feel the dwarves terror, fear for their safety or connect with their plight save a single moment when despite it all Martin Freeman manages to move the audience and his dwarvish companions when he tells them why he has stayed the course.
But this is one of only a handful of promising moments, gobbets of joy in an otherwise dull and occasionally silly affair. We will suspend our disbelief only so far. The worst crime in a fantastical journey is that we feel foolish undertaking it. Peter Jackson treads perilously close to this boundary.
It is possible I am being too hard on what is simply the first part of the journey. I hope and pray to the Valar that parts two and three will take a shaky start and create a masterpiece of cinema and storytelling.
Take an extra bag of sweets. Don’t open them till you get to Rivendell. You’ll thank me later.