It’s been a busy week, which is why the Friday Review for The Hobbit has been delayed all the way to Sunday. I imagine virtually everyone that wanted to see this film did so long ago but I only managed to see it this week. I read Tolkien's book some time during my childhood and adored it and this week I watched all three Lord of the Rings films for the first time in at least five years in preparation. As you can tell, I take more of a casual interest in Middle Earth, rather than being completely obsessed like I am with many other things. I tell you this so you don’t rip me apart when I make inevitable mistakes about characters and events!
The Hobbit opens much like the Lord of the Rings did- with an epic tale of disaster, this time of Smaug taking over the home of the dwarfs. It’s a great set up for the story and immediately grabs your attention. We then return to The Shire, which is very exciting, and see the return of Ian Holm as the old Bibo Baggins and Ellijah Wood as Frodo Baggins. This portion is set directly before The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s probably a good way to introduce fans of LOTR to this story, but it feels unnecessary for the story. I suppose the discussion should be whether The Hobbit should be a set-up for LOTR. The book is a prequel in the loosest sense of the word but the films so far feel like a direct prequel.
Eventually we get to what we want to see: Martin Freeman as Bilbo, being met at Bagend by Gandalf. The story begins and we have Bagend full of dwarfs and then a film full of various mini-adventures, although most involve escaping from a villainous Middle Earth race, be they Trolls, Goblins or Orcs. All three are done well, with the Troll escape being as funny as was in the book and the Goblins looking spectacular, especially the hideous King. The Orcs build up their part a lot- in LOTR they hardly ever speak but in comparison, here they are virtually wordsmiths. They also look very different from the orcs of LOTR. Here they don’t look as ugly and almost look human, which doesn’t feel quite right.
My highlight of the film, as I suspect is for many others, is where Bilbo meets Gollum. It’s certainly the best looking Gollum we’ve seen- the CGI is incredible and the creature looks properly real. Plus he has lovely bright blue eyes which give him a sense of innocent. It makes sense as Gollum is not quite so much of a tragic character here, not until Bilbo has disappeared with the ring anyway. Andy Serkis is a genius and manages to play such an un-human character so believably. This scene also shows how right Peter Jackson was in casting Martin Freeman. Freeman is the perfect Bilbo, playing the reluctant adventurer fantastically. Pretty much every Martin Freeman film involves him playing a reluctant adventurer- some might call it type-casting, but then again he plays that part so well.
The cast are as a whole brilliant, although being British I found it all a bit odd because virtually everyone is a Brit who has been seen a lot on British TV. Freeman himself is known for all sorts of things, probably most notable these days as Watson in Sherlock. Then there is Richard Armitage, who plays Thorin Oakenshield, who I can remember being very nasty as Guy of Gisborne in Robin Hood- he even killed Maid Marian! Then there was James Nesbitt as Bofur, an actor who has been in more TV dramas than you could watch in a lifetime and Aidan Turner as Killi, who was a vampire in Being Human. All of them were great at their parts but it was always in the back of my mind who they had played before.
The gang of dwarfs make for a great group to travel with, although having 12 of them seems unnecessary. Thorin, Bofur, Filli and Killi do most of the talking and the rest are either there are for comedy value (like Bombur) or just to make up the numbers. It seems odd that they sort of take on LOTR roles. Thorin is very much an Aragorn, Killi is a sharp-shooting archer a lot like Legolas and any of the dwarfs can stand in for Gimli. It’s another sign of that link to LOTR, which feels a bit uncomfortable. This happens again with a subplot about the Necromancer. Hardly anyone has actually read the story of that and it’s part of the extended Middle Earth mythology that Peter Jackson is shoving into the story of The Hobbit. I assume that there will be more of it in the next segment as otherwise it was a random interlude. The moment Gandalf, Elrond, Gladriel and Saruman sit around a table feels like a LOTR reunion dinner where hardly any of them bothered to turn up.
All in all, it’s rather good. Peter Jackson’s decision to make it a direct prequel to LOTR doesn’t feel quite right and filming in a different frame rate wasn’t a great choice either. It didn’t make much difference but every now and then a sweeping scenery shot would feel out of focus. Beyond those though, he did a good job. The casting was perfect and it didn’t feel too dragged out for a short book that’s being stretched into three films. I really enjoyed it and shall be giving it 4 Stars.