Last night I sank into my cinema seat prepared to be bored. I had been told I would be. Reviewers had said so on the radio and in the papers. The great machinery of publicity had come to its verdict – I was doomed.
But I wasn’t. Far from it – my three hours in front of the Hobbit were thoroughly inhabitable and wide-awake. It was a proper story – the fastest three hours I have known in a long time.
The plot follows the trials of a small group of dwarves as they prepare to wrench back their homeland, the Middle Earth kingdom of Erebor from a dragon, Smaug. Our champion is Thorin, already proven in battle and grandson of the late dwarf king. He has his family’s honour to restore and a personal matter to settle with a blood- shot, one-armed pale orc. Gandalf the wizard accompanies the dwarves and insists on bringing along a hobbit, the unlikely Bilbo Baggins.
Ten minutes in, rather than nodding off, I was relishing the company of this rumpled, barefoot hobbit who was fretting about his mother’s cutlery. Clearly not the sort of character to go anywhere near an ‘adventure’ and especially not without his pocket handkerchief.
The risk averse Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman. He is a doubt-ridden anti-hero – worried, clever, frightened and thoroughly English and ordinary. Except he’s not – he’s Bilbo – bursting with a sort of Bradley Wiggins brilliance that we hope is in all of us. Not so obviously a first glance hero but one for real.
Gandalf, of course, is the top trump. His eyes, Ian McKellen’s eyes, are an unhurried pale blue and belong to a wizard who can see through souls but is not so gentle that he won’t get stuck into a good fight. He is unpredictable and testing and frequently leaves dwarves and audience dangling long enough to learn something before he steps in to save them.
Thorin Oakenshield, played by Richard Armitage, is the film’s hard-as-nails hero. His courage is legendary, of the rush-in-and-let-them-have-it variety. He leads escapes from, and charges against, wolves, trolls, orcs and others. Unfortunately his heroics don’t always work out but that leaves plenty for Bilbo, Gandalf and the others to tidy up.
Then there is Gollum – a huge-eyed, skeletal, child amphibian of a creature. Andy Serkis brings Gollum up close to our worst nightmares then snatches him back, turns him petulant and precocious. Even better, when we meet him he is sharing his watery cave with Baggins. The encounter is a test of nerves – Serkis has to make us watch his Gollum; Baggins has to make us like this Gollum; and each has to out-riddle the other.
Gollum is 3D and imagination stretched to its sinews. This is what the heart of the film is about – imagination and story – about taking risks and not being frightened of being afraid.
Peter Jackson has directed a film that is a treat to watch. There is fright, hope, humour and more to come.
As for getting bored – short bursts of James Bond have left me feeling far more weary than Bilbo Baggins ever did.