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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The Hobbit, Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1937 children’s adventure novel, is a solid adventure film with great characters, incredible special effects, and some real big-time blockbuster filmmaking. While it doesn’t reach the dramatic heights of The Lord of the Rings film trilogy (a film series I’m not a particular fan of, though I appreciate its existence), it is still a fantastic time in the theater. The Hobbit is not without its series of flaws, and these flaws make the film somewhat less than the sum of its parts. But it is a fun film overall and well worth watching despite not reaching the level of the adaptations that came before it. It is clear that Jackson has an incredibly admirable reverence for the source material that makes up the film, and that reverence shines throughout the production.
After a long-delayed development process, The Hobbit finally gets its start on the big screen. Martin Freeman, of The Office (UK) fame, portrays Bilbo Baggins, the titular hobbit, who agrees to join a merry band of adventurers, including Ian McKellen’s wizard Gandalf and Richard Armitage’s dwarven prince Thorin Oakenshield, to reclaim the long lost homeland of Thorin’s people, the doomed kingdom of Erebor. Along the way, Bilbo will face off against terrifying mountain trolls and villainous orcs and goblins, and must also prove his worth as a member of the adventuring party. Freeman plays Bilbo with the fussiness of an Ian Holm, appropriate since he is taking over the role from Holm, who is featured in an extended and unnecessary cameo (more on this later). McKellen continues to play Gandalf well. He is a delight to watch, and the exposure he gained through this role after 2001’s The Fellowship of the Ring was well deserved. The star of the show is Armitage, however, who plays Thorin with intensity and gravitas. Graham McTavish as Balin and Ken Stott as Dwalin are delightful as dwarvish brothers as well. The entire band of dwarves is a well-acted group, and incredibly fun to see on-screen.
There is a ton to admire in this film, chief of which is Jackson’s masterful direction. Though he is in obvious need of an editor (and maybe even another writer), his skills with big budget filmmaking remain impeccable. Some of the action sequences in The Hobbit, including the dwarves attacking the mountain trolls, a thrilling escape from the clutches of the goblins and their king, and some of the flashbacks in dwarven capital Erebor (which tease the appearance of Smaug the dragon) are incredibly well done. Jackson’s directorial mastership also shines through in the confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis), which many have described as the highlight of the film. The special effects are also to be admired. I had heard rumors that McKellen had a tough time filming The Hobbit, and it’s easy to see why after looking at some of the production materials. The entire film is riddled with effects shots, a good majority of which are phenomenal.
The biggest problem with The Hobbit is in its sheer length. At an incredibly bloated 169 minutes, The Hobbit contains many completely unnecessary sequences. Sylvester McCoy, portraying wizard Radagast the Brown, is a completely tacked on character, and the entirety of his on-screen presence reeks of Peter Jackson unnecessarily padding the run time. It doesn’t help that his character lends and incredibly goofy presence to the movie, off-setting the more serious tone the film takes on after the introduction to the dwarves at the beginning. Additionally, the narrative framing device also adds unnecessary length to the movie. The film opens with Ian Holm as Bilbo, reprising his portrayal from the original film trilogy, penning the story of The Hobbit for his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood, in about 3 minutes of useless screen time) to read after Bilbo’s departure. The set-up is incredibly forced and feels tacked on to the final product in hindsight. When it was announced that The Hobbit would be split into three parts, Jackson assuredly had to go back to the drawing room and figure out where to add and where to subtract from what he had already filmed. It’s clear that this framing device was tinkered with extensively after the fact. Additionally, one minor gripe I have with the film is with the dwarven prosthetics, which are good on the whole but can be hit-and-miss in some cases. Most of the dwarves look incredibly good, but some just end up looking goofy a majority of the time. Even stranger, some dwarves have no prosthetics at all.
I found The Hobbit incredibly entertaining, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention that the entirety of the story could have been adapted into just one movie; this is the film’s biggest flaw. For all of its silliness and its totally invented and contrived narrative framing, I still enjoyed The Hobbit, however. It is a rollicking good adventure film with some great acting from the principle leads and fantastic special effects. It cannot be stated how much I hate tearing what should have been one three hour movie into a three movie nine-hour epic, but what’s done is done. Peter Jackson is a master director of special effects epics, and I suppose if I have to suffer through a year and a half long wait to finish his cinematic vision of a nearly hundred year old children’s book, I guess I will.