I’m a big fan of Tolkien’s books, and fascinated by how his early life in Birmingham inspired him, but I’m equally enamoured with Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of The Lord Of The Rings. So I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of Jackson’s latest visit to Middle Earth when it was released in December.
The first comment to make, regardless of any discussion about its links to or departures from Tolkien’s source material, is that it is visually stunning, exciting and thoroughly entertaining. Many people have said it is too long, particularly the early section prior to the company setting out on their adventure, but I disagree. I thought the pacing was fine, and I actually loved the whole Bag End section as it established characters and themes and had plenty of humour.
With so many new characters to introduce – notably the company of 13 dwarves, Jackson weaves in familiar faces from the Lord Of The Rings, who provide context, making reference to wider events in Middle Earth. This is a very clever use of Tolkien’s supplementary writing to establish the story within the overall Tolkien mythology, which is actually something the book does lack at times.
The central character of the film is Bilbo Baggins, the eponymous hobbit. In my view, Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo is probably the biggest triumph of the film. He perfectly captures Bilbo’s idiosyncrasies – from his house-proud nature to his loyalty and bravery when called upon. At the same time, the sheer Englishness of his politeness and refusal to show his anger when his house is invaded by dwarves, in fact his reserved approach throughout the film, is superb. Considering that Tolkien based hobbits on the traditionally English village folk he knew in childhood (including himself), I think Freeman’s performance is the truest depiction we have seen on screen of what hobbits should really be like.
The scene between Freeman and Andy Serkis as Gollum (wonderful as always) is the highlight of the film, and I cannot imagine this iconic scene being played any better than it is. It is truly a brilliant representation of one of Tolkien’s most famous pieces of writing.
As always, Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth was stunning. While I object strenuously to them claiming it as the “home of Middle Earth” (which is undoubtedly the Midlands of England where Tolkien grew up), I cannot deny that New Zealand’s scenery provides an incredible backdrop for the films. As always, the visual effects were superb and the portrayal of imaginary creatures such as orcs, wargs and trolls was totally believable. Special mention must go to the underground goblin city, which was almost exactly as I had imagined it when reading the book.
All in all, I thought that “An Unexpected Journey” was excellent as a film, and good as an adaptation of Tolkien’s book. Visually spectacular, brilliantly acted for the most part, and with some truly memorable set pieces, it stands alongside Jackson’s other Middle Earth epics as a major achievement in bringing that world onto the screen. I hope that the remaining two films make more use of Tolkien’s extensive writing than new material to remain as true as possible to the source, but I am definitely looking forward to how the rest of this wonderful tale will be told in Parts 2 and 3 of the trilogy.
To read a giant rather than hobbit-sized review of the film, visit my personal blog.
To find out more about how Tolkien’s writing was influenced by his early life growing up in and around Birmingham why not join our forthcoming “Tolkien’s Middle Earth Tour” on February 24th.