Any movie made from a book that means a great deal to a great many people will likely receive both ardent praise (if it has any merit at all) and ardent abuse (no matter what). The Hobbit holds sentimental value for me since it happens to be the book my father read to my brother and me when I was roughly 7 or 8 years old and consequently, it’s the first book in which I can remember being entirely engrossed. I knew Peter Jackson planned to make changes. I’d heard he intended to take from other of Tolkien’s works and, of course, I assumed some details would be changed or omitted or entirely fabricated. I had come to terms with the very idea of added/omitted or otherwise altered material before I even walked into the theater.
A lot of folks seem to think this first installment of Jackson’s 3 part adaptation ran much too long, was long-winded and unnecessarily drawn out. Having recently reread the book, I walked into it feeling vaguely skeptical of the film’s length (especially considering it’s a trilogy) but trusting that Peter Jackson wouldn’t ruin it for us. Two hours and forty-five minutes later I left, trust intact. I’ll admit that there were a couple of scenes I could have done without, compiling no more than a half-hour or so, but otherwise the film worked and the things that mattered most to me as a longtime fan of the novel on which it’s based, Jackson got perfectly right.
Truth be told, as long as he managed to nail the segment that correlated to the chapter titled “Riddles In The Dark” I knew I’d be all right with the rest of it. (As long as it didn’t totally suck, that is. Which it didn’t.) Andy Serkis deserves a new award, something made up entirely for him and his creation of the motion-capture CGI that has brought Gollum to life. I am enamored. “Riddles In The Dark” is one of my most favorite and beloved pieces of literature ever written and seeing it acted out onscreen with such detail, with a picture so clear and crisp, made me feel as joyous as a five year-old on Christmas morning. The cave, the glow of Gollum’s orb-like eyes in the dark, his silent paddling over the black water in search of his prey – it was PERFECT.
Speaking of perfect, Martin Freeman’s embodiment of Bilbo Baggins is a transformation so wholly accurate, I don’t know that there currently lives (or has ever lived) another actor who could play a better Bilbo. Ian McKellan is every bit as stoic and enchanting as Gandalf this time around as he was ten years ago in LotR. And the dwarves! Jackson brought them to life in a way I could never have envisioned. Fili and Kili, who happen to be my favorites, look perfectly jovial and Bomber, adequately plump. Naturally, the only ones whose visual translation seemed absolutely critical are Balin and Thorin himself and there isn’t even the slightest discrepancy there. And for the record, I enjoyed the extra segments dedicated to Thorin’s back story. I’m not sure why Jackson felt it necessary to include Azog the defiler. Tolkien did write about Azog in other works, but he never showed up in The Hobbit. And it isn’t like there weren’t plenty of obstacles along the way without being stalked by the The Pale Orc.
I can’t say I loved Radagast’s appearance, either, but the only addition that truly irked me was the scene in which Gandalf held a brief meeting of the minds with Galadriel and Saruman. What did this add to the story? Not a damn thing. In fact, it accomplished nothing but stalling the narrative for 10 minutes or so. It may prove itself valuable later in the trilogy but for now, I can’t see its relevance.
I saw it not only in 3D but on a screen that supported the high frame rate, as well. If you plan to see The Hobbit and there is a theater within 30 miles of you that offers both 3D and the hfr, I assure you: it’s worth it. The picture is so crisp, so clear and vivid, it’s as if you could reach out and tug on Bomber’s beard or touch Bilbo’s hair. And the scenes in the goblin’s caves are nothing short of stunning. Some have claimed that the picture is too clear, giving it an unreal, animated appearance. Or that it’s obvious when the scene is filmed on set rather than on location. Honestly, there are just a rare couple of moments where these criticisms hold water. But the multitude of breathtaking shots more than make up for it.
Whatever The Hobbit may mean to you, I recommend it. It isn’t perfect nor is it the best movie 2012 gave us. But it is exceptionally good, so entertaining you won’t check the time even once, and more visually stimulating than anything since… well, Lord of the Rings.