Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, and Sylvester McCoy
And so we begin on Bilbo’s 111th birthday, back at Bag End. Old Bilbo (Ian Holm) starts his book as Frodo (Elijah Wood) wanders the halls. Old Bilbo narrates the history of the Dwarves and how he came to journey with them sixty years earlier. We learn of the great Dwarvish Kingdom of Erebor beneath the Lonely Mountain conquered by Smaug the dragon for its gold treasure, and how he laid waste to the human town of Dale on the Lake. The Ereborian Dwarves, without aid from the Elven King Thranduil (Lee Pace) and his army, become nomads throughout Middle-Earth.
Then we are with a younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) as he smokes pipe-weed while reading a book on his front porch. Into this quiet setting enters Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) with the proposition of a quest with many travels, dangers, and treasure–for he remembers the boy Bilbo was being inquisitive, adventurous, and longing for something more. But Bilbo claims to be a simple hobbit now, with a happy life and no need for adventure. He bids good day to Gandalf and retires indoors. Before Gandalf leaves, though, he makes a mark on Bilbo’s door.
That night Bilbo receives an unexpected visitor, a Dwarf. Followed by eleven more and then Gandalf. Last to arrive is Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), rightful king of Erebor. Confused and befuddled, Bilbo wonders why they have come to his house and eaten all his food. He learns they require the services of a burglar and Gandalf has recommended him for their quest. Still confused, he refuses. But the next morning finding his home empty and cupboards bare he has a change of heart, and runs in search of the Dwarves, adventure, and more.
Watching The Hobbit you realize the main negative of the film is Peter Jackson the director and writer. There are too many things that are too familiar. Oh look, that’s how Gollum snuck-up on Frodo & Samwise, and that’s how the ring landed on Frodo’s finger the first time also, and that’s how Gandalf called the eagles in The Fellowship. The reality is even though The Hobbit created the world of Middle-Earth, it stands apart from all the mythology that followed. The film needed a different vision to follow. Many times while watching I kept wondering how Guillermo del Toro would have made things differently.
By taking an approximately 300 page book and stretching it to three two plus hour movies, Peter Jackson has created a flabby film. The opening scene at Bilbo’s 111th birthday serves no purpose. It distracts with an obviously computer manipulated Ian Holm face made to look younger, and a visibly older Elijah Wood looking as if he has already returned from Mordor after destroying the one ring. The scene with the rock monsters adds nothing to the story since it neither hinders nor advances the journey of the characters.
Also, odd tonal choices were made throughout the film. When the Dwarves break into song at Bag End to clean the dishes after their feast I half expected Snow White to come around the corner with fawning forest animals and birds in tow to help them clean. In films where all the evil characters have menacing and/or commanding voices, the voice of the Great Goblin (Barry Humphries) comes across more as a put-upon grocery clerk.
But what of the positives? The choice of actors was excellent. Once again both Andy Serkis and Ian McKellen are perfect in their roles as Gollum and Gandalf the Grey, respectively. It was fun to watch the more whimsical and slightly absent-minded Gandalf again. As for Martin Freeman, you would be hard press to imagine another actor in the role after watching his performance. The growth of both the actor and the character as the movies progress should be one of the highlights of the series. Richard Armitage as Thorin brings the right amount of gravitas and commanding presence. As for the other actors in the role of Dwarves, they do an admirable job in bringing some bit of character nuances for their limited screen time.
Set design, costuming, and music are fully realized. Once again each race and sub-set of race are unique and clearly defined. The almost impossible task of remembering and differentiating the other twelve Dwarves in Thorin’s party is made easier by the use of well designed costumes and make-up.
Overall, The Hobbit is a worthy yet flawed film.
Grade = C+
PS I watched the film in 24 fps 3D so I have no thoughts on 48 fps. But Just-A-Tad had some good thoughts on the subject. Click on the image below to have a read. As for the 3D, it looked great.