This is less of a review and more of a spoiler-free roundup for The Hobbit. Well, the first of three Hobbit films, a worrisome truth that I’ll address shortly. First, however, the good stuff.
- Martin Freeman is excellent, especially when evoking Ian Holm. His mannerisms, his shyness, and his burgeoning loyalty towards his dwarfish companions? Perfect. He really is a superb performer, and I want to kiss him on every mouth.
- Being back in Middle Earth brought genuine tears to my eyes. Seriously. I didn’t plan on crying upon seeing the Shire again, but I couldn’t help it; for the first hour, I was just so deeply happy to be back that I couldn’t stop grinning and tearing up. Which, if I’m honest, might be more to do with my inability to separate fiction from reality than anything else.
- Sylvester McCoy as Radaghast the Brown: mental. So perfect. I know, I know, he was only the vaguest of peripheral characters in Lord of the Rings, but here he becomes a whirlwind, a tour de force of both profundity and farce. To hardcore Tolkein fans (and Doctor Who fans), his scenes will (or should) hit the mark.
- The dwarves. Because of the padding out of scenes in which Bilbo wrestles with leaving the shire, we get loads of time getting to know most, if not all, of Thorin Oakenshield’s crew of thirteen. It’s a difficult task, giving distinct personalities to this many characters, and Jackson doesn’t always pull it off. But there are so many wonderful moments of pathos between dwarves and Gandalf and Bilbo that surely even the most heartless crybaby of a critic will shed a tear.
- Gandalf: awesome. Truly awesome. Kind, crinkly-eyed and wonderfully true.
- The riddle scene. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Pitch-perfect.
- 48 frames per second. Lots of people are whining about this, and before the film started I joked with two fellow critics that for many, it would be akin to Ed Harris having to breathe that creepy oxygen goo in The Abyss; at first we’d struggle, but then we’d reluctantly accept the new paradigm. Yet from scene one, I was in love. And this is coming from a film academic who binged on upwards of ten films a week for four whole year, and worked at a video store for seven years. I’m a proper cinephile who balks at even the slightest change in routine, and I was grinning like an absolute tit the entire time. I find it baffling that supposedly open minded critics are making such a big deal out of this new technology. Stop being such cretinous, entitled bitches and start marvelling. MARVEL, DAMMIT.
Loads of other little moments worked, and I could go on all day about Shore’s superb soundtrack. But let’s finish on the few negatives.
- It’s too long. There’s too much padding (mostly action oriented; big silly set pieces that stretch on more than necessary), which is no surprise given how comparatively brief the source material is. I found myself yearning for the next chunk of dialogue. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, if anything, skimmed by too much of the quiet moments, whereas here, by necessity, Jackson crammed plenty in. And they were fantastic. But to make up the rest of the screen time, he put in a LOT of action, some of it filler. Not bad filler, but filler nonetheless.
- I’m genuinely a little scared about Jackson’s ability to stretch this out to three films, especially if they’re all this long. He pulled this first instalment off, but as I’ve already discussed, it took some padding. Two films (There, and Back Again) of a reasonable length (two hours a piece) would have been ideal, but as it stands, we MIGHT have a declining body of work on our hands. I hope not.
Again, these are just my opinions; they’re the opinions of a rabid, lifelong Tolkein fan and a pedantic cinephile, true, but they’re my personal opinions. In no way should you put too much stock in the thoughts of critics. A critic is just a person who views and analyses the quality of art from a singular, myopic perspective. See the film yourself. Make up your own mind. And afterwards, if you feel the same way I did, we can share some pipe weed and kick back for an evening of amicable geeking out.