“The wild is no place for gentle folk who can neither fight nor fend for themselves.”
These days director Peter Jackson is now so firmly identified with the world of J. R. Tolkien it seems hard to believe there were doubts back in the late 90’s when it was announced he would adapt The Lord of the Rings. Back then Jacksonwas best known for making gory low-budget horror films, although Heavenly Creatures (1994) based on a notorious matricide in New Zealandshowed a more serious side. Adapting Tolkien’s epic trilogy had already defeated a number of filmmakers notably John Boorman, while an animated version by Ralph Bakshi in 1978 was abandoned halfway through. The Lord of the Rings may have been larger in scale than anything Jackson had attempted but the signs were there he could deliver. These early films might feature ridiculously gory scenes of aliens being dismembered with chainsaws, or sheep getting blown up by rocket launchers, or a kung-fu kicking priest beating up zombies, but they also show Jackson’s flair for special effects and his gift for the fantastical.
After the success of the Lord of the Rings movies which culminated in a Best Picture Oscar for Return of the King (2003) it seemed likely The Hobbit would be next. Jacksoninitially intended only to produce the film. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) was hired but left the project after two years of pre-production so Jackson once again resumed directorial duties. The Hobbit is naturally enough for a film based on a children’s novel lighter in tone to The Lord of the Rings though it feels very much like a return to the world created by Jackson and his team over a decade ago.
The cast is largely made up of television stars and trying to recognise them under their makeup is part of the fun. Martin Freeman is impressive as Bilbo Baggins, the Hobbit persuaded by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to help a group of dwarves regain their homeland, but see if you can spot former Doctor Who Sylvester McCoy, Richard Armitage (Spooks), James Nesbitt (Cold Feet), Ken Stott (Rebus), Aidan Turner (Being Human), and Brett Mackenzie (Flight of the Conchords). Barry Humphries, better known as Dame Edna Everage, Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock), and Manu Bennett (Spartacus: Blood and Sand) are in all in there as well although their performances are motion captured and then recreated by computer generated imagery.