Note: I did not see the movie in HFR or 3D. Unlike every other review of the Hobbit, there won’t be any talk of the new technologies.
Note 2: This review contains spoilers.
The first fantasy book I remember ever reading is The Hobbit. My parents had shelved their copy under the assumption that a small boy would one day want to read it. Considering the course my life has taken reading that book must be considered one of the formative experiences of my life. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a grander, more epic tale, but The Hobbit remained my favourite.
The Hobbit has elements to make a good movie. A strong core character, exciting action and one of the best villains ever put on paper. But it has more elements that won’t work. It doesn’t adhere to a classic act structure. Instead it has a series of episodes. They culminate in a strong climax, but the adventures don’t really grow. In fact during the most cinematic portions of the climax, the Battle of the Five Armies, the main character is unconscious and misses it. Bilbo may be a strong main character and Thorin gets some development, but the rest of the characters including the other 12 dwarfs and Gandalf are basically stock characters.
Thus, even after the success of LOTT, I observed the announcement and production of the films with a large measure of trepidation. More so when I heard that there would be three movies instead of one. The Hobbit would be an epic to rival LOTR despite never having enough source material. Additionally it is marketed as a prequel to LOTR. Tolkien had LOTR in mind when he wrote the Hobbit. He seeded ties between the two stories most notably Bilbo, Gandalf and the ring. But The Hobbit isn’t a true prequel.
Wow. That was a lot to say in order to reach the point. All my worry is for naught. The movie is excellent.
Let’s hit my fears. The length – the length is achieved is two ways. One they have allowed scenes to breathe. The early scenes in Bag End included the full diner party including two dwarfish songs. I cannot think of any scene abridged. Secondly, they added material relating to the Necromancer of Dol Goldur. This plot was hinted at in the book. It is the true beginning of the LOTR saga. Here that material is developed. Both work well. The pacing of the movie is uneven – slow at the beginning and packed at the end. But it is never boring. I loved the immersive qualities of the beginning and the time taken to achieve it.
That brings my to the second fear. Making it a prequel. Emphasizing the Necromancer certainly moves in that direction. But the material works. It makes the overall plot more complex and dark, but not too complex or dark. Really, my fears here are realized. But, I repeat, it works.
Stock characters – Beyond excellent work by Martin Freeman as Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin are nicely developed by Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage. The rest of the dwarves are given the quirks they have in the novel and the length of the movie gives the actors time to bring them to life. Dwalin, Balin, Fili and Kili in particular have great moments and personality. Bifur, Bofur, Oin and Gloin also get a little time. Ori, Nori and Dori round out the group. They probably had bits too. I just need to watch it again. 🙂
Episodic structure – two ways. First they gave it a normal three act structure. The opening. Then the trolls, orcs and Rivendell are linked. Finally the third act from the entry into the Misty Mountains until the end is a giant series of linked action scenes. Next they emphasized the theme of home in each act to give a strong through line.
Ok fears done. What else does the movie do well?
It is fun. It is exciting. It is scary. It is funny. It is gorgeous. It is true to the book, but also cinematic.
It is pretty darn awesome.
Fun? It captures the thrill of the book. It has word games and riddles. Stone at sunlight and danger in the dark. There is magic and wonder.
Exciting and scary? More so than the books there is a constant feel of peril. The trolls are the most humorous, but even they are scary. The introduction of a head evil Orc works particularly well.
Funny? Quite. All the humour of the book is there. Additionally, there is humour in reactions and sight gags. The dwarfs are hilarious without losing their nobility. I’m not sure how that was achieved.
True and gorgeous. These elements are brought forward from Jackson’s work on LOTR.
And Gollum is great. As everyone expected.
I give this film a very positive rating. Huzzah.