This is a difficult review to write because it’s hard to talk about the movie in and of itself without mentioning 48fps in 3D. The tech side of this movie feels, in some ways, like it has overtaken the story in my mind. It was hard for me to watch the movie and judge it on merits of story and acting because the thought was always in the front of my mind that I was watching something new and to be honest it felt at times like I was grading someone’s homework instead of watching a movie. Because of that I’m posting my review in two parts. Here I’m going to focus on the movie in and of itself.
The Hobbit is great when you watch it in context. This is the first story in the main Tolkien legend and if it had been the first film released I would be over the moon for it in the absolute exact same way I was for Lord of the Rings. But the fact is that the best story in that saga has already been told. In that regard The Hobbit can feel somewhat underwhelming. When you tell the big story about how the entire planet is saved from a seemingly unbeatable force of darkness it would seem kind of counter productive to follow it up with a story about slaying a dragon to get a kingdom and some gold back. However the way it is emotionally anchored in the Dwarf characters makes it work beautifully but the feeling is always there that if this is the story that audiences had been introduced to then the Tolkien saga would have been a perfect series that ascended with each installment.
Pacing is another issue that the film faces. This is primarily because of the way the original book was structured. It feels very episodic and as a result of that if often seems like there are spots for the film to take a break whereas LotR had a story that was driven further and further towards its conclusion. If certain things were cut out or if a better narrative flow was found for it the flick would have no pacing problems.
A thought I had while sitting in the theater was “How are they stretching this into three movies?” While I understand that the story has been lengthened thanks to using material that was present in The Silmarillion and also covering the Necromancer story on the side I can’t help but feel that they’re going to stretch the material somewhat thin. I think I’ll be wrong, but I hope you’ll excuse me for being cautious of prequels these days.
So it probably seems like I didn’t like the movie, right? Well you couldn’t be further from the truth. I actually liked it a lot. Because despite all of the love I have for the larger story, LotR, there’s something about revisiting the Shire and seeing Bilbo before he craved adventure, or before Gandalf had the reputation of being a great wizard. In fact if there’s any character that anchors emotion more than others it’s Gandalf who is clearly unsure of himself, which is something that’s relatively unfamiliar. There’s a theme throughout the Middle Earth Saga, an unspoken rule, that if Gandalf is around then everything’s going to be okay. It’s great to see just how that theme developed.
If there is anyone in this film that absolutely shines, then it’s Andy Serkis returning as Gollum. He and Martin Freeman share an extraordinary scene with the game of riddles. Serkis hasn’t missed a step, and his Gollum is just as frightening and sympathetic as ever. Even though it means deviating from the book, I hope we see just a little more of him in the next few films.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo, I’ve got to say, is perfect for the role. There’s a decided awkwardness to Bilbo. Freeman seems totally out of place which is why it’s so perfect. His evolution as a character seems completely natural and to be honest, it’s an absolute thrill to watch the meek hobbit grow into an adventurer.
In all the Hobbit is a very fun, very light return to Middle Earth. While I do have concerns that turning it into a trilogy may be a bit much, I am thoroughly excited to see how it turns out. It was an absolute blast. Keep your eyes out for part 2 where I discuss seeing it in 48 frames per second!