The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at Cineworld Cambridge

Less would have been more.

I was about 11 years old when I read The Hobbit. Didn’t (quite) finish it, and never went back to it. Although I did read Lord of the Rings about 6 years later. (Actually, it took me three attempts to get to the end of that – I kept getting stuck in the middle of The Two Towers.)

So I went into The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with very little foreknowledge of the plot. Except that I knew there were 13 Dwarves, and given the problem I normally have in keeping characters sorted out, I wasn’t really sure how well that would work for me.

As it turned out, they did a good enough job of making the Dwarves distinctive that I was able to pretty much keep them separate. I never did learn most of their names – I got Thorin, but the rest tended to be the fat one, the one with the funny hat, the pretty one with the bow, the big white beard, etc.

I thought Martin Freeman did a great job as Bilbo – he really does portray the ‘everyman’ type, and the reluctant-hero, well.

And I liked Richard Armitage’s Thorin. But it did seem to me (and I thought this even before seeing the film) that he didn’t really look like a Dwarf. I don’t think it’s just a matter of height – I think a fantasy-style Dwarf needs a certain physique. Not necessarily fat, but broad. Where as Thorin basically had the proportions of a tall man, shrunk down (though actually, mostly not, unless he was in the same shot as Gandalf). It was like they felt they couldn’t present him as a heroic figure if he looked like Gimli – he had to look like Aragorn. And so they then threw in a couple of younger, also slim, dwarves just so he didn’t stick out too much. Not that I’m complaining about Richard Armitage’s performance (or looks). And maybe there would have been more of a challenge in empathising with the character if he looked like Gimli. But it felt like a bit of a cop-out on the part of the filmmakers.

I saw the film in 3D, since that was the only option on the opening night in Cambridge. But the cinema wasn’t huge, and it also wasn’t set up for 48fps. So it was just regular 3D, and to be honest, I didn’t feel that it really added all that much to the experience – 2D would have been just as good. (Update: After getting back to Australia, I saw it again at the Macquarie Centre, in a bigger cinema, with 48fps. And that probably was a richer experience. Although there was no particular moment where I felt I was seeing something different, overall I had a much stronger sense of looking through a window into something real. Although since I had the same sense in Hugo – which wasn’t 48fps- maybe it was just the bigger cinema.)

I would certainly say I enjoyed the film. But I would equally certainly say that it was far too long. Aside from the opening with Frodo (a rather self-indulgent, and IMHO not really necessary, tie-in with Lord of the Rings) I don’t think there were any scenes that could have been removed in their entirety: even the singing, which I wasn’t a huge fan of, probably had its place. But some of them could probably have been cut back a fair bit. In particular, the capture-by and escape-from the goblins could certainly have been shorter.

Favourite moment

Would have to be the riddle scene with Gollum. It was the one scene that I actually remembered from the book – even before I read Lord of the Rings and learned that it was important – and it was very well handled in the film.

Bechdal test

Fail. I think Galadriel is the only female character with a speaking part.


3 ½ (If it had been shorter, I would have given it a 4.)

Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare) – Shakespeare's Globe production at the Apollo Theatre

Not a subtle production.

This production was quickly sold out at the Globe, so when the season finished it transferred to the Apollo Theatre, where it also sold out. Probably because it had Stephen Fry playing Malvolio.

It was all-male – apparently a revival of a very successful 2002 production. I seem to be in a minority in that I hated Mark Rylance as Olivia and Johnny Flynn as Viola. It seemed that Johnny Flynn was working so hard to maintain a falsetto voice that he didn’t have anything left to act with – certainly he didn’t give Viola any of the emotional depth that can (should!) be present. And I just found Mark Rylance over the top – not a drag-queen performance, but occasionally getting close to it. On the plus side, Viola and Sebastian did look convincingly similar.

However, I enjoyed Paul Chahidi’s Maria. Over the top, yes, but then the character is drawn with broader strokes anyway – emotional depth is possible, but not so essential. And he managed to have a very impressive cleavage!

But because of this, the storyline that I love about Twelfth Night – Viola/Olivia/Orsino – really didn’t work for me in this production, whereas (or perhaps because of this) I quite enjoyed the Sir Toby/Malvolio plot. These actors all gave solid, if not particularly nuanced, performances, with the emphasis being on broad comedy, ignoring any potential for pathos. It is, however, very arguable that this was how it was intended to be played, and trying for a different feel is to impose a 20th century sensibility on a 16th century work. (I still prefer it with pathos – and I think lines like ‘I was adored once, too’ do lend themselves to it – but I don’t think it’s fair to complain about its absence.)

The production was in Elizabethan dress, and an interesting touch was that they had the actors dressing and putting on their makeup onstage, as the audience was arriving.

Another nice touch – almost certainly a result of its originally being a Globe production – was that there was a bit of interaction with the audience. In fact, some audience members were actually seated in boxes on the stage. I’m not sure what you had to do to score one of these seats – when I made the booking, I’m pretty sure they didn’t show on the seating plan – but it certainly worked well.

There was one unfortunate incident the night we were there. During the gulling of Malvolio scene, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian were hiding inside a frame covered in leaves. At the end of the scene, just before the interval, Sir Andrew was exiting the stage still inside the frame, and he tripped over and fell quite hard. After the interval, Mark Rylance came on stage and said that although the actor seemed okay, they thought he should see a doctor, so someone else had to take over the part for the second half.

Favourite moment

The gulling of Malvolio scene (except for Sir Andrew falling at the end). Which is weird, because normally it’s a scene I hate. But in this production it did work. Which so many of the other (better) scenes didn’t.

Bechdal test

Not sure.

The play has some great scenes between Viola and Olivia, and for the purposes of the Bechdal test, I think it is irrelevant that Olivia doesn’t realise she is talking to a woman. But it is arguable that their conversations are all about a man – Orsino at first, obviously, but then ‘Cesario’.