After the unprecedented success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, adapting The Hobbit into a film must have seemed like a daunting task to Peter Jackson and company. Not only because there was a lot of hype and pressure to live up to, but also because The Hobbit isn’t as rich in lore and back-story as The Lord of the Rings. Less to work with could easily translate to a less interesting film and anything less than superb may seem like a disappointment after the success of the original trilogy. All these factors, coupled with some early grumblings by other critics, left me a wee bit apprehensive as I sat in the theater, waiting for the movie to start. I’m happy to say though, that as soon as the credits began to roll at the end, I thought to myself that I would have gladly sat through the next two installments right then and there.
Splitting The Hobbit into three films may have seemed like a strange decision from the outset. After all, it is itself a shorter book than any one of the entries in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. After watching the first installment of the planned trilogy for The Hobbit however, the advantages of splitting it up are immediately apparent. Tolkien fans who were upset about the omissions made to the first trilogy will find a lot to be happy about here. Splitting the book into three films allows for far more storytelling and a deeper look into the characters and their plight. A movie about a bunch of dwarves going to fight a dragon is a bit of a tough sell but the more time we have to get to know these characters, the more audiences are going to care about them. I know that I felt more emotionally attached to the story than I ever have, even after reading the book several times. The three movie decision has also allowed for more direct book-to-script dialogue. There were several scenes that were word-for-word translations of conversations in the book and as a fan, it was a treat to see these scenes played out while knowing that much of it wouldn’t have made it into the finished product had this been a one film deal.
Acting is, as expected, brilliant from top to bottom. Martin Freeman is a perfect choice to play the fish-out-of-water hobbit. Much like actors such as Elijah Wood and Viggo Mortensen before him, he has quickly cemented himself as the only actor you’d ever want to see play Bilbo (except of course for Sir Ian Holm who makes a cameo as older Bilbo). The rest of the newcomers are just as good. Sylvester McCoy gives an over-the-top turn as the slightly loopy Radagast the Brown in a performance that in lesser hands, could have been too silly, but here, it works beautifully. Thorin, the dwarf leader, is a role that needed to be cast very carefully and Richard Armitage embodies absolutely every aspect of Thorin Oakenshield with stoic determination. In fact, all of the dwarves are perfectly cast. Being that there are thirteen of them, it’s understandable that you don’t get to know all of them intimately the first go round but some of them have a few moments to shine such as Ken Stott’s brilliant performance as the legendary Balin and James Nesbitt’s hilarious turn as the fun loving Bofur. All of the returning cast is, of course, in top form. Sir Ian McKellen, who at this point can hardly be separated from the image of Gandalf, is beyond description as he embodies the very essence of the old wizard. Gollum’s appearance, too brief as it is, is once again knocked out of the park by Andy Serkis in the iconic first meeting between Gollum and Bilbo which becomes one of the best scenes in the movie.
I think what most impressed about this movie though, is that Peter Jackson has taken what is basically a children’s book and successfully blended it into the darker story that he brought to the screen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are, to be sure, far more light-hearted moments in this movie (as there should be) but it never seemed like a separate world from his original trilogy. There are several darker moments too though, such as the introduction of the Necromancer who will eventually become you-know who, and the cameo from the Ringwraith’s. Also, the battle between the dwarves and orcs in which Azog the Defiler wreaks his havoc is as dark and disturbing as anything from The Lord of the Rings films. With all that taken into account though, this is still a more light-hearted film than the others. You really get the sense while watching this movie that you are experiencing the world that you know and love, but experiencing it while it is still largely innocent and untouched by the evil that you know will eventually attempt to cover it. It’s a testament to the talent of the filmmakers that they have been able to bring audiences back into a world that can seem so familiar and yet, so different at the same time.
To compliment the top-notch acting and sure-handed direction is the soundtrack which has once again been given to us courtesy of the always fantastic, Howard Shore. His Oscar winning soundtrack for the Lord of the Rings trilogy was sweeping and beautiful and he has once again brought his A-game to The Hobbit. There’s a decent mix of new music written for this new trilogy, as well as plenty of returning themes any fan of the films will recognize. An audio treat in every sense of the word.
At this point I feel as though I may be just gushing. I am what many refer to as a ‘Ringer’, which is a term to indicate someone who is obsessed with all things Middle Earth. Knowing that might help someone to understand why I love this movie so much but to assume that it’s the only reason would be a disservice to this fantastic film. This is movie-making magic at its best and it’s a film that should be experienced by everyone. If I had to level a complaint against it, I suppose it would have to be that we have to wait a year to see the next installment. Until then though, we can enjoy the first entry into what will undoubtedly be another fantastic film trilogy based on the greatest fantasy fiction that has ever been put on paper.