The Hobbit is finally here! We are finally returning to Middle-Earth after we fell in love with the world over a decade ago with the Fellowship of the Ring. Things are a bit different this time around though. Also, SPOILER ALERT. Much of this is written with the assumption that you are at least familiar with both the plot of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.
What it is: The Hobbit is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings written once again by Tolkien and directed once again by Peter Jackson. The Hobbit book was actually written before the Lord of the Rings and was a children’s book that publishers loved and pushed for more, so this time around we are going to be having a much lighter tone compared to the first trilogy. Many familiar faces returned for the project including Elijah Wood as Frodo, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and Ian Holm shows up as Bilbo Baggins once again before we flash back to his younger self played by Martin Freeman.
My thoughts on it: Right off of the bat I need to stress that this movie is going to be different than the first trilogy. Because we are back in Middle-Earth with familiar faces means that this is obviously going to be compared to Lord of the Rings but that is a little unfair. The tone of the Hobbit and the tone of LotR is so drastically different that these movies are going to be drastically different. On top of that, LotR was a trilogy where each movie was based off the corresponding book. This means that each movie while building off the others also works well individually because each is given proper pacing and has solid concluding moments and natural climaxes. The Hobbit is very different once again in this aspect because it is only one book that is being expanded into three movies. Because it is being expanded as it is that means that some of the movies are going to end unexpectedly and that the pacing might be a bit off so it is hard to view those aspects as negative. Certain events need to be rearranged or exaggerated to give the movie the structure and flow it needs.
It is really hard because the Hobbit is not perfect and Lord of the Rings was and if it wasn’t it was pretty damn close to perfection. The Hobbit might not have been perfect but it was good, it was really good. But because it is so closely tied to LotR which was perfect, the Hobbit’s lack of perfection which would otherwise be completely acceptable now is construed as a negative simply because it is compared and held up to LotR.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. Parts of the movie were amazing and nostalgic and perfect and awesome and then there were other moments that totally flopped and literally made me cringe.
Martin Freeman was meant to play Bilbo. I loved Ian Holm’s take on Bilbo but Freeman just blew it out of the water. He does a great job capturing all of those little Bilboisms and alone provides enough comic relief for the movie with the clever and witty chatter that arises when he is outside of his elements and amongst the dwarves.
Ahh, the dwarves. The dwarves for the most part are pretty awesome. We get to know a few better than the others and the ones we do get to know are awesome. Dwalin, Balin, and Bofur were perfect and were exactly what I had been hoping for from the dwarves. While some of them were amazing some were not so much. I couldn’t stand Ori, Nori, or Dori. Perhaps it is the over the top hair or the high pitch squeaky voices but they just bugged me. Nori’s hair in particular was so oddly shaped that in any of the shots where short doubles were used the odd shape exaggerated the fact that doubles were being used and it takes you out of the experience for a moments. Despite my complaints about cosmetic details of three dwarves they were all pretty damn awesome. They were rambunctious and loud and rude and gross and perfect.
This was a complete relief because our first glimpse of the dwarves was once again, a little off-putting. The film starts similarly to LotR with a recollection of history. Instead of the battles against Mordor and Sauron narrated by Galadriel we had Bilbo going over the history of the Dwarves and explains their struggles. During this scene we get to see a lot of dwarves and again they look awesome but their home of Erabor bugged me so much. The fortress that is Erabor is a magnificent palace with deep sprawling halls full of gold and gems and smooth stone bridges web through the depths of the mountain and it is a glorious place. Unfortunately though, the magnificence of Erabor is too great to recreate practically so instead they turn to CGI to create it. The way they ended up animating it does it justice but the entire place looks animated. It looks fake! I mean I understand why they had to animate it instead of recreating it but it is just really distracting. But then again this doesn’t last for too long before we see Smaug show up and destroy the place. Erabor was the worst but there are couple instances where the environment seems completely blue screened.
Before I completely move away from the dwarves I want to talk about Thorin Oakenshield for a minute. First off, the dude is a badass. I remember from the book that he was pretty rough and tumble but in the movie this really gets emphasized. This is great and he provides us with a real emotional tie to their quest. With this being said he did feel a bit off. I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what it was but I haven’t found that exact thing yet. Maybe it is his eerie resemblance to Aragorn because you realize pretty quickly that Thorin really was designed here as a Dwarf version of Strider. Maybe it is because he is a bit one dimensional in his angry warrior attitude and he is a little over the top. Don’t get me wrong, Thorin like the rest of the dwarves was awesome and builds on the dwarves right to the mountain and the justness of their task. I just wished he had had a bigger beard to distinguish himself from Aragorn a bit more on top of looking a bit more dwarvish and there was just something else there that felt off.
One of the biggest complaints I heard about prior to this movie was that the CGI was excessive and that it made a lot of the goblins and orcs look a bit cartoony. I was incredibly thankful to find that this didn’t feel the case to me at all. In fact the CGI was really the most distracting and I guess for the lack of a better term, bad when it was used for some of the locations shots such as with Erabor. The goblins were very CGI but they still looked terribly hideous and nasty even though they lacked the scary, menacing element that the practical costumes provided. The orcs for the most part looked pretty good with the exception of a few, the Pale Orc in particular. The Pale Orc was a character which was only briefly mentioned in the book that was embellished here due to his relationship with Thorin. I know a lot of people hated this addition but by emphasizing this admittedly cool and menacing foe gave us a solid antagonist for this first film due to the lack of Smaug. He might have been added in but he was solid addition that ultimately added to the story. Except of course for the terrible animation. As cool as this orc was he just looked terribly fake and totally animated. A lot of the orcs use practical costumes which were touched up with CGI to move eyes further apart and break apart the traces of humanity in their faces a bit more and these orcs were done very well, but the Pale Orc at least looked entirely CGI. Nothing about him looked real. It was well done animation but not well done enough for us to realize that it wasn’t animated. Again not detrimental to the film but again incredibly distracting and kind of takes you out of the experience.
It’s a funny thing being in a situation where a lot of complaints about a movie adaptation are not about the material which was excluded but rather about what was added. For example, my single biggest complaint about the film was Radagast the Brown, or should I say the Jar-Jar of the film. Radagast was absolutely terrible. The wizards or istari are a powerful people and Radagast in no way reflects that and is just a complete joke. When I referred earlier to moments that made me cringe I was referring to every time Radagast was on screen. It was clear they wanted him to be the comic relief of the movie and perhaps the preteens out there who watch it will enjoy him but I have nothing good to say about the movies portrayal of him. I understand his role in the movie, he is completely necessary to facilitate the necromancer plot and he is admittedly the perfect character to do this AND incorporate more about the istari into the movie! In the Lord of the Rings book I found myself so interested in this character who has less than two pages of action; there seemed to be so much potential there and in the book he didn’t seem bat-shit crazy. Yes Radagast is cooky but not to that extent. He wouldn’t have bird shit on the side of his face and wouldn’t cross his eyes all the time and make weed jokes. Give him an ounce of dignity and self respect; Bilbo and the other characters already provide enough comic relief that they didn’t need to make him so silly. Perhaps this character was spot on according to the appendices and I am just disagreeing with how Radagast really is but I feel like it is more likely I am just unhappy with Jackson’s interpretation.
The last real complaint is maybe a bit nitpicky but it seemed like towards the beginning, more so than the end, the film was just a bit more sloppy. It seemed like some of the cuts were choppy, some the acting forced and unnatural. It seemed like the film was made in a rush and that because it was done in a hastened manner it suffered in attention to detail. Maybe Jackson was just a bit more thorough the first time around. It wasn’t bad, it just seemed like it could have been better if reworked a little more. Admittedly after leaving the Shire a lot of this decreased and the film just got progressively better.
The Shire. Just the sight of it back again was sweet enough to bring a smile to my face. The biggest complaint about the pacing of the movie has been that the beginning scene where the dwarves gather in the Shire takes too long but I loved it. Jackson has done an amazing job of making the Shire feel like home. Every time Bilbo walked through that circular door a wave of nostalgia hit me. It wasn’t just the Shire that looked as beautiful as ever but entirety of Middle-Earth. The world felt new and magical but familiar and comforting at the same time which made the movie feel the same way. Seeing Gandalf smile and having those sweeping helicopter shots with the amazing landscapes in the background just made me smile. It did an amazing job of creating throwbacks to the Lord of the Rings trilogy without bashing you over the head.The connections to the other movies weren’t the only nostalgic aspect of it. The Hobbit is presented as Bilbo’s telling and narrating of his adventure to Frodo and as he says the first words of his story I got absolutely giddy.
My absolute favorite part of the movie was the riddles in the dark scene. Other parts of the movie felt far from perfect but the entire scene with Gollum was absolutely perfect. While the CGI was lacking in other areas the animation teams clearly spent a lot of time on him. He looked better than ever and Andy Serkis once again blows the role out of the water. He really does an amazing job of showing the same depraved and sinister little devil but still with the innocence one was prior to being tortured by Sauron. And the emotion you get from him as Bilbo escapes is amazing. The despair in Gollum’s eyes at the loss followed by the absolute hatred he shows when Bilbo escapes make his motives in LotR blatantly obvious.
Compared to non-Lord of the Ring movies, the Hobbit is very good. Compared to Lord of the Rings it is not as good but still very good. I feel like the Hobbit could have been as good but it just wasn’t nearly as polished as it could have been. Most of my complaints could be very easily remedied by a bigger beard or a removal of a mannerism and the rest are just nitpicky quality details. While those little mistakes are indeed little they do remove from the magic of the world and experience and ultimately take away from how immersed you become.
Despite its faults it really is still a good movie that is just held up to a very high bar and the way it ended got me completely excited for the next two. I give the Hobbit 4/5.