A prequel of sorts to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) is itself the first movie of a proposed trilogy, as a young Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins with Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and Thorin, King of the Dwarves (Richard Armitage) and his 11eleven diminutive companions on a quest to restore the dwarf kingdom to its former glory. Peter Jackson, who directed the LOTR films, again takes the helm, and there is much for the Tolkien fan to enjoy: frenetic battle sequences, vividly imagined settings, and all manner of expertly animated elves, trolls, goblins, orcs, dragons and sundry fearsome beasts. A number of fan favourites from the Lord of the Rings films also put in an appearance, including Frodo (Elijah Wood), Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Gollum (Andy Serkis), although those fans of the novel hoping for more than a very fleeting cameo from the Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Smaug the Dragon will be sorely disappointed. Equally disappointed will be those hoping for a cohesive, powerful tale. Action-packed though it is, and full of eventful twists and turns despite its almost three-hour running time, The Hobbit nevertheless feels stretched thin, many of its conflicts engineered and resolved for the sake of killing time, while other conflicts are patently devised in order to flesh out the inevitable computer game tie-in (one sequence in particular looks to be lifted straight out of Donkey Kong). TMeanwhile, and despite a number of attempts, the story never really comes up with a plausible reason as to why a timid, peace-loving hobbit has been invited to join a war party that must slaughter its way through a number of foes in order to achieve its destiny. An impressive visual spectacle, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey lacks the emotional depth that might have made it a satisfying epic.
The fraught nature of the father-son relationship is explored in You Will Be My Son (15A), which is directed by Gilles Legrand. Paul de Marseul (Niels Arestrup) is the aging patriarch of a renowned wine-producing family that has for generations produced some of the most coveted grapes in France. His son, Martin (Lorànt Deutsch), works hard to earn his father’s respect, but when Paul’s trusted vineyard manager François (Patrick Chesnais) is diagnosed with terminal cancer, and his son Philippe (Nicolas Bridet) arrives home from his job cultivating vines in Californa’s Napa Valley, Paul begins to groom Philippe as his heir. An engrossing, character-driven drama, whichYou Will Be My Son revolves around the monstrous Paul, a man who is a vain, selfish and largely worthless human being, apart from his genius when it comes to producing wine. Arestrup gives this complex bully a full-bodied performance, skilfully evoking Paul’s weaknesses even as the man’s arrogance evolves into a pathological dislike for the son he perceives as weak and ineffective. Deutsch and Bridet also turn in strong performances as the young men sacrificing themselves in order to impress an older generation, although it’s Chesnais, as the modest artisan facing death with dignity, who strikes a quietly profound note. It all looks rather ravishing too, in its setting of the rustic French countryside and acres of vineyards, although Legrand does overplay his hand towards the end, when a claustrophobic tale of desperation and betrayal tips over into melodrama.
Those of you with very young princesses to entertain over the Christmas holidays will be pleased to discover that Tinkerbell and the Secret of the Wings (G) is a charmingly innocent little fable. Over the three Tinkerbell movies to date, the fairy (voiced by Mae Whitman) has evolved from her incarnation as a malicious sprite in the Peter Pan story to become a helpful and well-meaning citizen of Pixie Hollow, although her ambition to be as helpful as possible often gets her into trouble. This time Tinkerbell discovers that she has a sister, Periwinkle (Lucy Hale), both of them born from the same baby’s laugh — but Periwinkle lives in the Winter Woods, and the pair are forbidden to see one another by Lord Milori (Timothy Dalton) and Queen Clarion (Anjelica Huston). Naturally they disobey, and all kinds of hi-jinks follow. The story is as direct and simple as you might imagine, but the animation is beautifully done, particularly when Tinkerbell’s flouting of the laws of nature result in the frosting-over of Pixie Hollow. Is it any good? Well, when asked her opinion, my four-year-old expert in such matters declared that her favourite part of the movie was ‘EVERYTHING!’ That may not be up to Pauline Kael’s standard of criticism, it’s true, but you ignore that quality of enthusiasm at your peril.