It’s been a long time coming but finally we’re seeing Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit on the big screen. We follow the story of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as he joins a band of 13 dwarves on an epic journey to reclaim their lost city of Erebor, which has been taken over and inhabited by a dragon. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf the Grey, joined by other returners Hugo Weaving, Elijah Woods, Ian Holm, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, and Andy Serkis.
So what works?
It’s fantastic to be back in the world of Middle-Earth and there are plenty of nods to the previous films. Even the music helps connect the two, as eerie familiar tunes ring up at opportune moments. It’s impossible to live up to the original trilogy, so I’m going to try to look at this with fresh eyes.
Martin Freeman is spectacular, convincing in both his yearning for adventure but also hesitance. His hesitance is countered by Richard Armitage as the leader of the dwarves Thorin Oakenshield. He’s got some amazing badass moments in the film and some added material showcases his backstory and gives us more of a reason to root for him. And as always, McKellen embodies Gandalf to a tee, though he seems much more willing to dive into the action in this film, showing us a younger and more carefree Gandalf than the previous trilogy.
The scene that everyone has been waiting for… Riddles in the dark. The infamous meeting of Bilbo and Gollum, where the one ring changes hands. It’s absolutely fantastic and Gollum once again steals the show. His CGI work is even better than the first time around and it’s easy to forget that it’s entirely CGI.
In terms of length, yes, it’s a long movie but it actually clocks shorter than any of the LOTR films. It covers enough material to be substantial but there’s definitely some ground to cover in the next two installments. The pacing was near perfect, though some other reviewers have said that the action takes awhile to really begin. I don’t share this complaint. With 13 dwarves, a wizard, and a hobbit, we need time to get to know them and I was thankful for the earlier scenes that introduced us to these dwarves because it’s easy to confuse them in the midst of battle.
I was also hesitant about adding in stories from the appendices, to make the film into a trilogy. But the stuff they did add in, including Radagast the Brown and his discovery of some dark evils in the forest, were a welcome addition and gave us more of a concrete villain to fear.
What didn’t work?
For some reason, the choice was made to create some of the villains entirely from CGI. The most notable is an albino orc that has a vendetta against Thorin. This orc doesn’t even look close to real. I know they have the potential because of what they accomplished but Gollum but that same amount of care didn’t go into this film’s main antagonist. In Fellowship of the Ring, we were able to despise the lead orc because you could sense that there was a person under the makeup. This time, the villain lacked any sense of humanity but not in an intentional way. I would’ve preferred to see more physical makeup appliances. This also goes for the Goblin King as well. Not realistic at all.
In terms of other visual issues, the fight scenes were a little quick and sloppy and lacked the visceral punch I wanted. I think some of this is due to the lack of real villains to combat, replaced by CGI monsters.
While not perfect, the film was spectacular. It did echo all the great things I loved about Lord of the Rings and I enjoyed every minute. I’m not giving this film a perfect score because there were some glaring decisions made that I would’ve advised against. When I don’t buy into the main villain, it’s hard to root for the heroes. For the next two films though, I do have a better feeling and I’m excited to see how they tackle Smaug. I’ll definitely be seeing this again, at least once more, and I’d encourage fans and non-fans to check this out in theaters.