When Gandalf first appears at Bilbo Baggin’s front door, at least half a dozen screams erupt in the packed cinema hall.
These screams continue to be heard (followed by equally loud ‘shhh-es’) sporadically throughout the 169 minute long showing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – a film that seems to be director Peter Jackson’s attempt to fulfil all (and I really mean all) his dreams of doing further justice to JRR Tolkien’s detailed vision of Middle-earth.
Suffice to say, anyone who has seen and loved the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy (haven’t we all?), read the books, occasionally glanced through the appendices, learnt the odd sentence or two in Elvish, gotten a LOTR tattoo or bought a primer to Middle-earth is in for a fine old time.
For everyone else, you’d better enjoy it, or get out.
Disclaimer: I consider myself at most, an average fan of LOTR. I have read and watched the trilogy (but not the extended version) just once. I have read The Hobbit just once as well, and thoroughly enjoyed it, perhaps even more so than the trilogy because, well, the story was simpler and just more fun. I have flipped through The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales and The History of Middle-earth before abandoning them.
As an added note, whenever I play fantasy Role-playing Games (RPGs), I tend to be a female elf torn between being a sorcerer of the light or an evil dark mage. I tend to love plot, focus on enhancing my character’s speech, hate the battles, usually selecting ‘novice’ for game play (this has relevance, I assure you).
With that out of the way, let me get into everything I liked and disliked about the film adaptation.
Things I liked (in no order) – SOME SPOILERS
Bilbo Baggins – played by Martin Freeman par excellence! I could not have asked for a better Bilbo. Freeman played the role just as I had pictured it in my head while reading the book; the sincerity, the honesty, the character development from self-doubt to little hero, and the charming simplicity with which Bilbo is depicted is perhaps the best aspect of the film. Freeman held the film together, and helped bring it down to (Middle) Earth every time it started spiralling into an action-epic with too little soul. Like factor: 9/10
Gandalf – played by Ian McKellen is also, in my opinion, perfect. Flawless acting, a sense of grandeur with enough down-to-earth quirkiness and that warm feeling of ‘everything is going to be okay with the Grey Wizard around’ is all intact. Like factor: 9/10
Thorin Oakenshield – played by Richard Armitage was another stand-out performance. One of my favourite scenes is from near the end of the film where after running to the point of no-return, Thorin turns around to face his old enemy, flames around him, a path open before him, and a determination in his eyes that screams this is a true leader (and the music for the moment is awe-inspiring – and stolen from the original LOTR?). Yes, repeated references to how Thorin does not trust Baggins to come through felt forced in the film, but I blame the scriptwriter for that. Armitage was absolutely convincing in his role as a king-without-a-kingdom, demi-god dwarf with a chip on his shoulder. Like factor: 8/10
The scene with the trolls – was brilliant! Thank you Peter Jackson for keeping the film light-hearted enough to not be on the same mood/tone as the LOTR trilogy. More adventure with less axe-swinging and more amusing banter will keep this female elf (see disclaimer above) more than happy. Like factor: 8/10
The Stone Giants battle – was really scary. The scene nailed it for me as far as generating a sense of terror, excitement and awe go. I had issues with the 3D (see below) and the level of light, but ignoring that, I was totally on edge during this. Question: was this in the book though? Even if it wasn’t, I enjoyed it thoroughly. Like factor: 8/10
The escape from the Goblins – was awesome! I loved Gandalf’s entrance, the pace, the rough-and-tumble aspect of the escape paired with the humour that the dwarves (as a unit) bring to the whole film. Which reminds me – I read a critique of the film somewhere which said,
“The dwarves made very little impression as stand-alone characters, aside from Thorin.”
To this I would just reply, dude, there are over a dozen of them; I think we need to think of them as a single entity, and as a single rough-on-the-edges-hilarious-heroic entity, they were really good. Like factor: 8/10
Gollum vs Bilbo – while my wife found the whole riddles game overly tedious for a film, I loved it! Andy Serkis is a great Gollum. The character itself is so richly layered (and demented, and sad) that the more we get of him, the better. I was really hoping to get a flashback to a detailed vision of Gollum’s past to see how he came to possess the ring and how it corrupted him, but perhaps that is too much to wish for. Like factor: 10/10
Overall tone – the film was fun, not-too-heavy yet heavy enough to make my heart beat harder and my head think, on more than one occasion. I feel the film has the same essence of the LOTR trilogies, which is a good thing because, A: those films were great, and B: I want consistency in a world I now visually picture/know.
Bear in mind, it is different enough from the trilogy, in that there are more jokes, a different more care-free albeit panicky pace, less threatening/ominous and not as deep (in a good way). Like factor: 8/10
Film length – as an average fan of LOTR and a frequent player of RPGs (with a focus on the plot, not the action), I’d say the film’s length is just about right. Three hour long films are becoming more and more acceptable in this cinematic age, and I for one feel The Hobbit – seen less as an adaptation of the book, and more as a chance to explore of as much of Middle-earth as possible — is perfectly acceptable in three large parts.
While critics may disagree, and haters might always point to this as an issue – if I was Peter Jackson, knowing this may be my (and the world’s) last chance (for a while) to get deep into a Middle-earth adventure, I’d make it as long as possible with tonnes of embellishments, too! Like factor: 7/10
Things I disliked (in no order)
Too much action – there is a real limit, I feel, to how far you can push a film visually, particularly with grand action sequences, battles, escapes and what not. While I did not feel fatigue from the film’s dialogue, I did feel fatigue from the running-jumping-battling-swooping-soaring-hurtling-killing that went on. Yes, yes, I have read critiques of the film saying it was too long when it came to the slower, wordier scenes, but give me good conversation, quips and some ale across a dinner table over 15 minutes of running away from orcs any day. Yes I liked the stone giants’ battle and the escape from the goblins, but all the action could have been tighter. Dislike factor: 4/10
The 3D/overall visual experience – The (regular) 3D was possibly the most unnecessary I have experienced yet. In my own humble lay watcher’s terms: it was distracting and not very good/convincing at times. I can’t remember one scene where it actually added to the experience, and I can remember a few where it seemed just odd (flat albeit beautiful backdrops of New Zealand against oddly sharp foreground stuff). I would have paid the same to watch the 2D version if I had known. Keep in mind, I am all about plot, script and acting, which is where I feel this film excelled, and exactly where 3D is not needed. Dislike factor: 5/10
Saruman/Galadriel/Gandalf/Elrond moment – felt forced. When I see such a bevy of great actors sit down at a table, I expect – I don’t know – something more? Instead of being an essential part of the film it just seemed like a LOTR trilogy throwback filler. Fun enough for the fans, but pointless in the scheme of things. The same can be said of the necromancer-evil-is-coming side plot with Radagast the Brown. I guess once I watch all three films in a row, it will make more sense, but right now it was just interesting-but-let’s-get-back-to-the-plot. Dislike factor: 6/10
What people watching with me said
“So many additions to the original book’s plot – I love it!”
“They took such a short book and stretched it into three films to earn big bucks off enthused fans!”
“Where are the women characters of worth? Wait…are there any women characters?”
“If the Eagles could be called by Gandalf for a rescue, why the hell couldn’t they be called at the start of the adventure and oh, fly everyone right to the mountain?!”
“It’s too long. I think only LOTR fans would like it.”
“Just randomly watched Batman VS Dracula on Cartoon Network. It was better than The Hobbit.”
“I haven’t read the book! It doesn’t make sense! Help!”
I give The Hobbit an 8/10. Without the 3D, I would give it an 8.5!
For a review praising the film, read: The Hobbit – big things have small beginnings
For a review bashing the film, read: The Oversized Ambitions of ‘The Hobbit‘