The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (5 stars)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Simple story and astounding set-pieces make for a truly immersive cinema experience

Peter Jackson returns to the Middle Earth he rendered so faithfully in Lord of the Rings, and it’s never looked so glorious. Adapting JRR Tolkien’s 1937 novel The Hobbit – set sixty years before Rings – this first film in a planned trilogy is so alive, so immersive, you feel as if you’ve set foot in the Shire itself. The Office’s Martin Freeman leads the way as Bilbo Baggins, the timid Hobbit who is recruited by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to accompany thirteen dwarves to reclaim the Lonely Mountain, now the resting place of the terrifying dragon, Smaug.

It’s a simple story, Tolkien’s children’s tale thankfully lacking the po-faced, bombastic feel of Rings. Freeman is perfect as the bookish Bilbo, gradually growing in courage as the film unfolds. Another stand-out performer is Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin, the leader of the dwarves who rather takes a dislike to Bilbo’s presence. If this story needed a warrior in the mould of Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn from Rings, then Armitage is it.

If the dwarves can sometimes get overwhelming – it’s not easy bringing thirteen different personalities to the fore – it’s never to the detriment of the film. This may be an ‘unexpected journey’, but their warmth and humour ensures you’ll you want to continue onwards with this group. And even if you don’t, you can’t help but delight in the return of Gollum, Andy Serkis’ wizened creature, who makes a delicious cameo.

Still, it’s the technical innovations here that will really leave you breathless – notably the stunning 3D shot at 48 frames per second (creating a smoother ride than the usual 24fps). The set-pieces – notably the group’s encounter with the Great Goblin and his hoards – are astounding, showing Jackson hasn’t lost any of his ability for conjuring great spectacle. Next year’s second instalment – The Desolation of Smaug – can’t come fast enough.

The Hobbit trailer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  • 5 stars
  • 2012
  • US / New Zealand
  • 2h 49min
  • 12
  • Directed by: Peter Jackson
  • Written by: Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), Peter Jackson (screenplay), Guillermo del Toro (screenplay), J. R. R. Tolkien (novel)
  • Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage
  • UK release: 14 December 2012

Prequel to Jackson's epic adaptations of JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.