Full disclosure (this paragraph is something of an insane rant and has nothing to do with the Hobbit, so feel free to skip it): I am in the incredibly tiny minority who was not overly impressed with the Lord of the Rings films. While I thought that they did an exemplary job of capturing the setting, sights and sounds of Middle Earth, and even the grand scope of Tolkien’s masterwork, I found some of the inexplicable changes to the core story that started appearing in The Two Towers (why is Faramir a dick? The whole point of his character is that he is unlike Boromir in aspect. He is something greater. Like Aragorn. He’s a reason to hope. Why does Faramir take Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath? So we can see it under siege? Probably. Sam then somehow fends off a Nazgul on winged steed by tackling Frodo and crying out. Hmmmmm…swiss cheese. If Aragorn’s army of ghosts can simply sweep across the field and massacre Sauron’s entire army without apparent effort or effect… and Aragorn knows Sauron has another, bigger army… why doesn’t he just go ahead and spend the ten minutes to kill that army too? I’m sure the spirits of the dead would be willing to stay off their eternal rest for ten minutes. Especially because they’re under you control, Aragorn. King of the Dummies.) In addition, Return of the King in particular is much too long. Since the Hobbit has now been split into a stunning three films (!) … in retrospect it seems like Return of the King could definitely have occupied two. Particularly since some of the action elements from The Two Towers were woven into it and… okay.
I saw The Hobbit! Against my wishes, and against my better judgment, I went on a double date sort of affair in the bitter cold to take in this pre-coronated motion picture just days after its release. Fearing the worst, I brought along a large flask filled to the brim with Kraken spiced rum and decided I wouldn’t be shy about pulling off of it. I didn’t really end up needing to, much to my surprise… because here’s the thing about The Hobbit: I liked it. Sort of. Mostly. Oh, more full disclosure: I saw the film in two dimensions at the standard twenty-four frames per second. We didn’t feel like driving to a fancy theater.
As I’d come to expect from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, the production here is outstanding. From the very instant The Hobbit begins, we’re drawn back into the realm of Middle Earth. Dwarves, Elves, and now… a dragon. Of course, one of the major reveals that Jackson is keeping for his second film is Smaug, so we don’t see more than the ophoid slit of his eye in what really amounts to an extended intro that describes the history of Erebor, its fall, and the escape of a few dwarves, including Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Once we’re all caught up, we return to Hobbiton, and meet Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). Freeman is excellent as the earnest, earthy Bilbo, who is friendly and considerate, but really doesn’t feel like he wants to be involved in an adventure at all … at first. It’s in this first section at Bilbo’s hobbit hole that, in my estimation, the film shines most. The dwarves of Thorin’s company arrive in a steady stream, along with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and treat Bilbo to a night of drinking and feasting… and reminiscing about their lost home, the twilight of the dwarven people, and their enmity with the goblins of the mountains. The music, the mood, the performances, are superb, and by morning… I was as ready as Bilbo was to follow Thorin on his damn fool idealistic crusdade.
The film’s tone throughout mostly remains what I feel to be appropriate to the story being told. The Hobbit is a much more lighthearted affair than the ponderous material of The Lord of the Rings. Instead of twisted Uruks made by the unholy marriage of man and goblin, we have goblins that do a lot of singing and arguing among themselves, and who ultimately don’t seem particularly organized or threatening. Perhaps without the all-possessing will of Sauron behind them, goblins are an essentially pathetic people. There are stupid trolls, dumb goblins, and running axe and sword fights to spare, including some invented and extended action sequences which are a necessity in any three hour long fantasy film epic. The problems that the Hobbit suffers, and they are relatively few but fairly damning, universally occur when it drifts away from this lighthearted tone and fast pacing.
Without going into too much detail, let me just say that Jackson crams the final meeting of the White Council (if you don’t know what that is, believe me, there is not time for a lengthy explanation, but check the footnote at the bottom for the cliff notes version) as a scene in the middle of the film that, frankly, goes on forever. Christopher Lee and Cate Blanchette reprise their roles (Saruman and Lady Galadriel, respectively) from the Lord of the Rings films and join Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Gandalf in some lengthy pontificating about the threat posed by The Necromancer, the evil force which is corrupting Mirkwood from within. Because this film doesn’t ever reach Mirkwood, we haven’t seen enough of Mirkwood yet to really understand its corruption, and while the White Council’s final meeting does happen concurrently with the events of the Hobbit, it has essentially nothing to do with that story, this scene is dead weight. It absolutely kills the momentum of the film. Worse yet? It’s book-ended by two long sequences where Bilbo Baggins has, essentially, no lines at all and spends huge periods of time off the screen. Now, I may not be a famous movie director, but I have watched a lot of movies in my life… and I can tell you that there’s a problem if your character driven fantasy story about a single unlikely hero and his friends excludes that unlikely hero from a third of its run time. It’s triply aggravating because Freeman is so magnetic as Bilbo when he’s on-screen.
Because of this real problem in the mid-point of the film, the Hobbit very much loses its way for a while, even if you happen to have read the novel and already know how the story is going to play out. This was a real disappointment for me, as I actually thought one of the few genuinely great bits of the script and directing in the Lords of the Rings trilogies was editing action and plot points smartly to keep the films moving. That doesn’t happen here. The setting and music eventually drug me back in (also, the riddle-telling sequence with Gollum (a returning Andy Serkis) is delightful. It has a lot to do with Martin Freeman. I might have a little man crush.) and I was with the movie again by the finale, but I really did feel disappointed when I walked out of the theater, and that sucked after such a promising start.
Anyway, if you’re looking for a recommendation, see The Hobbit! I can’t speak as to the technology additives I’m afraid, but the film itself is enjoyable enough. Just don’t expect a masterpiece, because this film, while good… falls well short of great.
Tolkien Nerd Footnote: The White Council – This is a group comprised of the wizards (Saruman, Gandalf, Radagast the Brown, and two Blue Wizards who are MIA) and the leaders of the Elves (Elrond, Galadriel, and Ciridan), though as Gandalf bears Ciridan’s ring and he spends all his time building escape ships, he doesn’t show up for this dance. Basically, the White Council was the body of good powers in the world that kept things peaceful and friendly during Sauron’s long slumber. They’re mentioned only in passing except during The Fellowship of the Ring when Gandalf tells the story that is recounted for us live in this film. Their last act was to put the Necromancer out of Mirkwood, after Gandalf discovered that the Necromancer was, in all likelihood, Sauron garbed in a lesser form to pull the proverbial wool over the council’s eyes.