Only while sitting in the cinema did I realise how incredibly excited I was for this film. The beautiful music, the stunning visuals and the whole world that J.R.R Tolkien had created made me excited and captivated in its genius. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tokien’s masterpiece, had been adapted for cinema several years ago now, and its predecessor/prequel is finally here, after years of director changes, cancellations and delays. Is it worth the wait, and the hype?
I believe so. The Hobbit is a treat, and despite the cracks and over-long nature it just about manages to not beat, but nearly match the wonder of the original Lord of the Rings trilogy. Martin Freeman was a strange but now proven excellent choice for the young Bilbo Baggins; he displays the confusion and fear, but then bravery and courage that Bilbo develops so well, a remarkable performance by a brilliant actor. He just seems perfect for the role, and although it’s classic Martin Freeman, a very similar character to his roles in the Office and Sherlock, he feels right for the part, and you won’t look at him in other roles without imagining those funny little Hobbit ears. Inspired casting surely, although that’s not to say he steals the show. Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandelf the Grey, giving a warm and loving performance as the famous wizard once again. There is no sign or mention of some of the more famous characters of the Lord of the Rings, for which I am glad. I’m sure Peter Jackson was sorely tempted to have a mini Legolas or Aragorn run about as a cheeky reference to his past work. Thankfully he doesn’t, and the series saves its dignity. Sadly though, none of these performances mean much when compared to the reprisal of Andy Serkis as the tortured creature of Gollum. He steals the show, bringing a CGI induced brilliance to the role, brilliantly portraying the split personalities and working off Martin Freeman exceptionally well. Some would say Andy Serkis’s part is minimal, because Gollum is a CGI creature. I disagree. I don’t think the character, or indeed the film, would be quite the same without Andy Serkis. Consider the show stolen.
What of the visuals? They never disappoint. Whether it is a deliberate distraction from the sometimes lack of meaningful story is a debatable issue, but nothing but wonder can be exclaimed for this film. Probably the most stunning film I’ve seen since Avatar, and The Hobbit also uses the same brilliantly subtle 3D that Avatar did to bring the world to life. Unlike a lot of 3D films, this isn’t constantly chucking things in your face to remind you you are in a cinema wearing stupid glasses. It uses subtle 3D, like insects flying around or birds to make you feel totally immersed in the world. Only once or twice did I actually go out of my way to notice the 3D, and that was when the film threw something in my face, an axe here or an Orc there. But this was kept at a minimum, and the decision to pay extra to see the film in 3D proved to be the right one. Superbly well crafted by Peter Jackson, and the CGI boys deserve a big pat on the back. Visually stunning, and some would argue this saves the film.
There are flaws to the formula sadly. The main complaint is that every penny is being forced out of me for this experience, for such a small, and originally intended children’s book, a trilogy seems incredibly unneeded. The book is actually shorter then The Fellowship of the Ring, which Peter Jackson managed to convert into one film with absolutely no trouble at all. Why, ignoring the obvious reason of a money making scam, Peter Jackson couldn’t do the same for this, is a mystery. At times this film seems forced, as if Jackson is making up stupid situations just to make it seem like something is happening. Plot twist! Bilbo left his hanky at home! Good two minutes wasted there Jackson. At times it was actually noticeable how forced the film was, and yet at the end of it a fair part of the book had been covered. The encounter with Gollum, a very important part of the book, has been completely covered in this film. How they can properly fit the amount left into a trilogy I’m not too sure, and the fact that this film feels much too long makes me question some of the decisions made here. At one part, with about two and a half hours gone, I was happy because I thought the film was about to end perfectly. Oh wait! Another huge and epic battle is being squeezed in. Hooray! At parts of this film it feels like we are watching an extended cut, where the director put in all the deleted scenes. Some of this really needed to be cut, and does take away enjoyment of the film.
Worries for the future of the trilogy aside, is there anything glaringly wrong with this particular film? The fact it lasts so long is the main issue, but that aside there is not a lot here you won’t enjoy. Some of the characters are very weak, a few of the dwarf members in this fellowship of sorts are nigh on invisible half the film, serving only for a few cheap jokes. A large part of the film is back story and flashbacks; while these are very enjoyable they do sometimes feel like time wasting by Jackson. Overall however, the film is incredibly well made and enjoyable, for the most part better then I could have hoped.
One point I do feel strongly about however is the ordering of Tolkein’s work. I personally feel that the decision to make the Lord of the Rings trilogy first and then have the Hobbit second brings with it suffering to emotional impact. If we had known Gandelf like this first, would we have had a stronger response to his ‘death’ in The Fellowship of the Ring? Undoubtedly. If we had seen Saruman as the wise and great chief wizard in this first, rather then a good guy for around five minutes in the Fellowship of the Ring, would we have reacted stronger to his switch to Sauron? Yes! And if we had fallen in love with Bilbo like this, and fleshed out his story with such detail before the Fellowship, would we have been sadder and more shocked at his fragile and possessed state? Of course! Instead, the characters didn’t matter as much when these events happen, and now we finally begin to know them it’s too late. Although it’s a minor suffering, it’s a real shame. Even Gollum would have been seen in a different light. I do think that this would have improved the franchise as a whole, and if they had done it as Tolkien intended (he wrote the Hobbit for his children way before he wrote the Lord of the Rings) I think the benefits in terms of characterization and emotional impact would of been huge.
Seeing Gollum and Martin Freeman engage in a battle of Riddles, just as the book intended. I nearly jumped off my seat and shouted “Perfect!”, as it was just as I had imagined. Superbly done Peter Jackson.
The overwhelming feeling the film is made to swipe your cash more then to live up to J.R.R Tolkien’s works. The prospect of three more three hour long films for such a short book is ridiculous. A scary prospect for what the series will become.
A film that just about lives up to the hype, albeit it with some flaws. The casting and particularly the CGI is superb, with the Bilbo and Gollum scene standing up there with the other incredible Middle Earth moments. However, it is way too long, and the prospect of a trilogy is genuinely frightening. An epic, but ever so slightly flawed masterpiece. With a heavy heart I cry “Bring on The Desolation of Smaug, Peter!”