This is ONLY a review of the actual movie. I am not going to mention the higher frame rate in my review. To read what I thought of the higher frame rate, check out my article specifically about it here.
I loved the LORD OF THE RINGS movies. I really enjoyed them when I first saw them, and they only got better the more I saw them. I think Peter Jackson made the ultimate fantasy masterpiece with those films. I consider them some of the best films ever made! I have also enjoyed some other films he’s made too. His best non-Rings film is his debut, BAD TASTE. I also like THE FRIGHTENERS, and MEET THE FEEBLES needs to be seen to be believed. However, after the LOTR trilogy, Jackson has been struggling to find his footing. KING KONG was a bloated mess, and LOVELY BONES was an embarrassing attempt to make a dark, mature, dramatic film. So I was thrilled when I heard the news that he was returning to Middle Earth. I wasn’t all that familiar with THE LORD OF THE RINGS books, but I know THE HOBBIT quite well thanks to that 1977 cartoon with Orson Bean as Bilbo. I was definitely looking forward to this!
The story is a classic. I love it. Now this is only the first portion since it’s been stretched out to 3 films. It opens with older Bilbo (Ian Holm) working on his book, telling the tale we are about to see. We learn about how a dragon named Smaug destroyed the Dwarf kingdom in the lonely mountain. Then Bilbo meets a wizard named Gandalf (Ian McKellen), who asks him if he would be interested in going on an adventure. Of course the hobbit refuses, but before you know it, a dozen dwarfs show up at his miniaturized doorstep. After a bit of reluctance, Bilbo (a bit suddenly) decides to accompany the dwarfs on their adventure to take back the lonely mountain and defeat Smaug. Since they don’t make it there in this movie, it’s just a series of adventures as Bilbo and the dwarfs encounter trolls, an orc army and the Goblin King. And of course, Bilbo finds a mysterious ring and meets Golemn as they play a deadly game of riddles. It ends, like the first 2 LORD OF THE RINGS movies , with a cliffhanger.
I’m not going to pussyfoot around here. This is NOT as good as the LORD OF THE RINGS. Maybe it’s unfair to expect that kind of greatness, but with Peter Jackson back at the helm, one would think that it should be on par with that series. Unfortunately, I had too many little nitpicks that keep this from achieving greatness. That being said, it’s still a pretty fun adventure flick! Just not a great one.
I think I’ll get my nitpicking out of the way first. Well, I guess I only have a couple of nitpicks, mainly involving the characters. While the LORD OF THE RINGS was filled to the brim with rich and memorable characters, THE HOBBIT feels a bit empty in that department. Sure, we meet a dozen dwarfs, but only 3 or 4 have any real personality. Also, I don’t mind a movie being silly, but I could have done without the moment when a couple of dwarfs were trying to out-burp each other at Bilbo’s dinner table. Probably my major gripe would be with how Bilbo is handled. Or should I say not handled. From what I remember from the cartoon, he’s the central character and the story is told from his point of view. So it kind of surprised me when he just kind of disappeared in the background for much of the film. Also, I felt that he decided to go on the adventure much too quickly. One minute he was dead-set against it, and then with no character transition, he changes his mind.
Okay, now that I have the negative stuff out of they way, I can talk about what I enjoyed about it. In fact, everything else in the movie is pretty darn good. The opening prologue was a pretty cool way to open the film as we get a brief glimpse of Smaug destroying the lonely mountain. As much as many critics are complaining about how long the dinner sequence with the dwarfs was, I actually liked it (aside from the burping). It’s a playful scene that you normally didn’t see in LOTR. I even liked the 2 songs the Dwarfs sing. Some people say that this sequence is 45 minutes, but it’s more like 15…..20 minutes tops. Then there’s a neat battle with the trolls. It was cool to see how they turned into stone (since we saw them as statues in FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING).
There’s some intriguing new characters too. I really liked THORIN, and his back story. We learn that he defeated a nasty orc by cutting off his arm in a terrific sequence. I really liked the addition of the wizard Radagast the Brown. He’s a crusty old senile sorcerer who only really associates with animals. I loved his traveling sled pulled by a bunch of super fast bunnies. We get to see Rivendale again, along with some old friends (Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman). The battle with the stone giants was breathtaking. It has some cool images, like one where you see the dwarfs on the side of a mountain, and then the camera backs up to reveal that they are actually on the leg of a stone giant. Awesome!
The first 2 hours are definitely more leisurely paced. The stakes don’t ever seem that high. But then the last hour happens, which contains the best moments of the movie. Bilbo and the gang are captured by Goblins when they enter a mountain. Bilbo gets away, only to confront Golemn. This is probably the film’s most engaging scene. Golemn wants to eat Bilbo, but agrees to show him out of the mountain if he can beat him in a game of riddles. Watching the two of them go back and forth was most entertaining. I remember this from the cartoon, so seeing this come to life in a motion picture was pretty sweet. The escape from the goblin kingdom is the best action sequence in the film, and almost tops the action sequence in FELLOWSHIP when they’re escaping all of those orcs in the mines of Moria. It begins with a great film geek moment that will have people cheering, then it just keeps on going as Gandolf and the dwarfs navigate their way out of the mountain as they’re pursued by a swarm of Goblins. Sure, it gets a little ridiculous just how everything happens in the heroes’ favor, but it’s so much fun! Then there’s a great scene that re-introduces the gray orc to Thorin. They’re some great moments here too.
The acting is pretty solid all around, though nothing that stands out too significantly. Ian McKellen has a very meaty part as he reprises his role of Gandalf. He slips back into the character effortlessly, which was a joy to see. Martin Freeman does a decent job as Bilbo, but I just wish his character was a little bit more drawn out. He’s got some great character moments throughout, but I felt he should have been the focus of the story more. Richard Armitage as Thorin makes a good impression. I also liked Ken Stott as the dwarf Balin, who reminded me of John Hurt quite a bit. His character is definitely one of the more memorable of the dwarfs. And of course, Andy Serkis is fantastic as Golemn. The details that the special effects team got out of his performance make the character all the more special. I like that he was a little more scary here than in LOTR. Oh yeah… and Dame Edna did the motion capture performance for the Goblin king, who I thought was a cool villain.
Peter Jackson’s direction is still great. I love how he chooses to film the many action/chase movies with lots of fast, overhead shots that give those moments a sense of urgency. It also gives the audience a good sense of geography. He still knows how to film action, as most of those scenes are full of energy and excitement. The story is where it falls a little short. Now, it’s not as epic as LOTR, but it’s trying to be. And maybe that’s where the film’s central flaw lies. This should have been more of a simple story, but it almost seems liked it was forced to be this giant epic. Still, Jackson has crafted a fun-filled fantasy flick. Howard shore is back scoring the film, and it’s pretty much more of the same, though the new dwarf theme is outstanding.
Those expecting THE HOBBIT to be on the same level as LORD OF THE RINGS are only setting themselves up for disappointment (kind of like everyone did for the new INDIANA JONES movie). But if you just go in expecting a fun adventure, you should be able to enjoy it. People are complaining about how long it is, and I disagree. It’s 169 minutes, which is exactly 9 minutes shorter than the theatrical version of FELLOWSHIP. So it’s the shortest one of Jackson’s Tolkien adaptations. We all knew it was going to be this long, right? For me, the time flew by fast. I have now seen it twice (once in each format), and I could easily see it again. It’s quite watchable. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a classic, but it’s a solid telling of Tolkien’s beloved novel. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Film Geek Central’s own Jesse Hoheisel also reviewed the movie. Check out his review here
– Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images. (It’s actually quite violent. Lots of orcs and goblins getting their heads lopped off, which I found to be fucking awesome!)
– Running time: 2hrs 49min.