There is a moment early in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey when Gandalf The Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) turns to diminutive hero Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and counsels: “All good stories deserve embellishment.”
Director Peter Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro have taken the wise wizard’s words to heart and embellished JRR Tolkien’s novel to the point of creative obesity.
In the first deviation from the text, Jackson opens his picture at Bag End with the elderly Bilbo (Ian Holm) penning a book to his cousin Frodo (Elijah Wood).
We rewind 60 years to meet Bilbo (Freeman) in the Shire as he encounters Gandalf (McKellen) and a 13-strong company of dwarves, who intend to reclaim their lost gold from the dragon Smaug in his mountain lair.
After a sleepless night, Bilbo agrees to accompany dwarf leader Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and his troops on their perilous mission.En route, the brave souls encounter elvish allies including Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), as well as wretched Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the corpulent Goblin King (Barry Humphries).
Freeman brings a touch of humour to his pint-sized weakling, who learns that, “True courage is knowing not when to take a life but when to spare one.”
McKellen and co ease back into familiar supporting roles and Armitage swaggers as the vengeful son, who allows rage to cloud his judgement at a vital juncture.