Top 10 films of 2012: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Feature Juliette Harrisson 23 Dec 2012 - 22:05

One of the last releases of 2012 is also one of our favourites. Juliette explains why The Hobbit made our top 10...

Over the past few weeks, Den Of Geek writers have been voting for the films of the year. It's a democratic vote, which inevitably means that things end up in a slightly funny order that not one individual writer is likely to fully agree with. Nevertheless, it's a fine list. Here's entry number 9…

9th place:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, for The Hobbit is far from a perfect film. As just about everyone has observed, it’s too long. It’s at least half an hour too long. No one needs to see dwarves do dishes no matter how cute and funny the Tolkien song is. And astonishingly, after every single viewer of The Return Of The King complained that it had too many endings, Jackson took that feedback and… gave The Hobbit too many endings. Granted, The Hobbit only has two or three endings to Return Of The King’s five or six, but still.

Length is not the only problem. Most of the minor alterations made to the scene with the trolls are wise changes and serve a purpose, but jokes about troll snot do not serve a purpose in anything, ever. If you’re making a Serious Fantasy Epic, it’s probably best not to make your hero look like Comedy Ron Weasley from the junior Harry Potter instalments. And there’s a fine line between exhilarating, death-defying action, and a cartoon in which your heroes can throw themselves from tall buildings and survive without a scratch. The Lord Of The Rings stayed just the right side of that line – The Hobbit doesn’t.

Why then, is The Hobbit on our list of films of the year (other than the fact that we saw it more recently than anything else, and the comic book movie vote was split between The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises)? Well, because despite these flaws, it’s brilliant. Howard Shore’s score is magnificent, finding the perfect balance between echoing his The Lord Of The Rings score and new material. The deep, resounding dwarf song with lyrics from the book is enough to send chills down your spine. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast and was worth the entire crew breaking off in the middle of filming to fit around his Sherlock schedule.

The neatness of the match between Freeman and Ian Holm is beautiful, and Freeman, ever the everyman (see also: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy) simply is Bilbo Baggins. Most of the effects work is, of course, excellent, bar the odd moment in the goblin cave (and if the 48fps speed makes the film look too fake, it’s widely available in 24fps as well).

The highlight of the film is, of course, the riddles game between Bilbo and Gollum in the caves under the Misty Mountains. Serkis’ conflicted Smeagol/Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings has been expertly combined with the lighter Gollum of The Hobbit’s source novel. Happier, better-humoured but recognisably the same sad figure, his single scene is funny, creepy, tense and captivating. Jackson also makes two characters sitting around telling each other riddles into a properly cinematic scene full of movement and shifting tensions, using just the right number of riddles from the book.

Ultimately, The Hobbit is a film for the fans. Casual fans, those who haven’t seen The Lord Of The Rings in the last ten years, those who haven’t read the books and certainly anyone who is entirely unfamiliar with Middle Earth will notice the length, the tonal shifts, the occasional leaps in logic, and may be disappointed. But for the devoted fan, this film is a thoroughly rewarding experience. In addition to the musical cues that put the audience straight back into the world of The Lord Of The Rings, the film is full of little touches for fans of the book – from Bilbo (somewhat implausibly) quoting the opening lines of the novel, to the detail that Bilbo forgot his pocket handkerchief, all the way through to the group being flung out of the frying pan and into the fire, the film is Tolkien nerd Nirvana.

One of the most affecting scenes in Jackson’s best film, The Fellowship Of The Ring, is the conversation between Gandalf and Frodo in which Frodo complains that it’s a pity Bilbo didn’t kill Gollum when he had the chance, and Gandalf tells him that ‘pity stayed Bilbo’s hand.’ Their conversation about life and death resonates throughout the rest of Fellowship, and Gandalf’s assertion that Gollum has a part to play yet is, of course, resolved in The Return Of The King. And so, fittingly, the most moving moment in The Hobbit is signposted when Gandalf gives Bilbo the sword-that-isn’t-yet-called-Sting and tells him that the real challenge is knowing when to kill and when to hold back. The audience knows as he says it how this will play out, and the extended moment when Bilbo, invisible, holds his sword over Gollum’s head and hesitates when he sees the creature’s miserable, ruined state is beautifully done and feeds back perfectly into Frodo’s story and, indeed, the whole saga.

Also, Thorin and Kili are really hot. I’m just saying.

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