Last night I enjoyed my first viewing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, or as one Twitter wag has christened it, ‘An Unexpected Item in the Baggins Area’. It was at the home of Peter Jackson’s Tolkien screen empire, the Embassy picture palace – the fullstop punctuating the end of Courtenay Place with suitably vintage grandeur from the golden age of cinema. And it was the focal point of the splendid world premiere ceremony a few weeks ago.
The Embassy is the right place to see a film of this scale. Not only does it offer the 48fps HFR version of the film, but it also offers splendid sound quality, having been refitted once again in the lead-up to the Hobbit release, gaining something called Dolby Atmos for the premiere. The visuals are both sumptuous and engrossing. While I mightn't want to see every movie in such pin-sharp clarity, when it's one as keenly anticipated as The Hobbit I'm glad of the painstaking detail. There really is a lot going on in every scene, and I found this exciting rather than distracting.
All the effort that has gone into bringing this to the screen is definitely worthwhile. Quite simply The Hobbit is splendid entertainment. Martin Freeman is perfectly cast, balancing the Baggins love of home and hearth with his Tookish thirst for adventure. And the adventure itself is suitably thrilling, with The Hobbit being more action-oriented than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, no doubt because this is a film based on material designed for younger readers and because there is less narrative from the source material to work with over three films. The famously slender source material didn't feel particularly stretched in this instalment - well, maybe in one or two places - but who knows how it will fare in the second and third chapters.
While the first Hobbit film may not quite be the equal of The Fellowship of the Ring, it successfully taps into the spirit of the earlier trilogy, which is a very fine legacy to invoke. It's already done well at the box-office internationally. On Sunday Variety reported in its traditional mangled English:
The first of three installments, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," hunkered down for what should be a sizable global run, drawing $223 million this weekend, of which $138.2 million came from international plexes. The movie earned $84.8 million domestically, lower than the most bullish estimates but enough to be the largest Stateside December bow ever.
(The article is rich in Hollywood clichés: it goes on to refer to audiences as 'auds' and uses the moderately revolting abbreviation 'cume', as in 'cumulative audiences'. It also praises the film's 'topnotch playability', which is a needlessly convoluted way of saying 'popularity').