Like so many others, excitement was not lost on me when I first heard that Peter Jackson would be bringing an adaptation of The Hobbit to theaters. The original Lord of the Rings trilogy was a huge part of my teen years and one of my all-time favorite series of films, and the opportunity to go in and experience that all over again was a pretty awesome prospect indeed.
So when 23-year-old me sat down in the theater to watch the film, I was kind of disappointed. As a whole, the movie was good. But it still felt…lacking. Like it wasn’t quite as grand or on as epic of a scale as the trilogy.
That being said, the more I sat back to consider it, the more I realized I was holding it to some pretty lofty expectations that few movies could really achieve. And so, I decided to play fair by acknowledging the good parts alongside what could have been done with a bit more care. And so, I present to you the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: And Unexpected Journey.
Martin Freeman as Bilbo – I loved Martin Freeman in the BBC version of The Office, ad loved him even more as Bilbo in The Hobbit. He did a great job of capturing the essence of Bilbo in the film; he was fussy, particular, and afraid to leave the comforts of home, which translated well to Tolkiens’s imagining of the character in the book itself. But as the story progressed, he gained courage and confidence in himself and managed to connect me to the character enough to care about his evolution. Overall, Freeman did a great job portraying the development of Bilbo throughout the film, making him into a reluctant adventurer to a hero toward the end.
Overall Story Pacing – The Hobbit is no holy bible; it’s roughly 300 pages and wraps itself up in one contained experience. So when it was announced that the book would be extended into three films, I was pretty nervous about how well the story pacing would play out.
In the end, it did a mediocre job. The beginning was slow to the point of being near-torturous, but once things finally got going, it did a fair job of keeping you engaged in the overall story. That didn’t prevent it from falling victim to the Jackson tradition of being way too long, however. The film is nearly three hours long, and considering all the story fat that could have been cut out, it certainly didn’t need to be. But for being three hours, I never found myself looking at my watch.
Cinematography – The original trilogy has come under scrutiny before for feeling like a New Zealand travel ad thanks to its gratuitous shots of mountainous terrain and forests. It certainly arises again in The Hobbit, but there are some major differences between the original films and the new one that lend some magic to the film’s overall cinematography.
Camera angles do a fair job of capturing the action within the film, color is used to a greater degree to give the film a much more fantastic feel, and familiar places such as Rivendell have been overhauled to look even more breathtaking and imaginative than before. And while there are certainly many, many panning shots of mountaintops and valleys, it still is able to capture the grandeur of Middle Earth to a degree not seen before in a Lord of the Rings film.
Sountrack - It’s hard to not think of the LOTR and not hear the iconic soundtrack in your mind, and The Hobbit makes a great return to this. The strong sound of horns, the airy woodwinds, and the dramatic percussion all worked well to convey a sense of wonder and the attitude of the film as a whole. While I wasn’t crazy about the musical numbers with the dwarves (addressed below), the overtures and themes used in the soundtrack paired well with the film to emphasize action and epic moments throughout.
Bilbo vs. Gollum in an epic riddle battle – Of all of them, I felt like this was the one scene that most adequately captured what was quite possibly the most pivotal moment in the entire book. Andy Serkis once again did a fantastic job of capturing the maniacal nature of Gollum, being both pitiful and hostile as he bounces between two personalities and has nonsense conversations with himself and his most prized possession of the One Ring. Coupled with the unease of Bilbo and the battle of riddles the two engaged in inside the cave beneath the goblin hideout, the two made up the most compelling and interesting scene in the entire film that did great justice to the same scene in the book.
An Unexpectedly Long Beginning – Story pacing took a huge hit in the beginning when it took nearly an hour for this unexpected journey to even take to the road. After a weird and strained cameo of Frodo, a painfully long introduction to many dwarves you’d never care about or hear from again throughout the rest of the film, awkward musical numbers, and planning, planning, and more planning, the film finally got underway after what felt like the longest beginning in film history. It tried too hard to build up into something grand, when it should have cut out a lot of the unnecessary bits and jumped right to it. After all, I’ve got to sit here for three hours; I don’t want to spend one of them watching dwarves eat Bilbo out of house and home. Not even the book took this long to set up.
The Film’s Identity Crisis – The novel for The Hobbit has a very different tone from the LOTR trilogy. It’s much more whimsical, filled with humor and more lighthearted events than that of Frodo’s journey to Mordor.
The film tried to capture this, but also tried to add in sub-plots meant to tie the story to the trilogy as a darkening precursor to Frodo’s inheritance of the Ring. What resulted was a weird mix that never established a strong overall tone for the movie as a whole. It felt a bit disconcerting when it jumped from dwarves singing about breaking Bilbo’s dishes to Radagast encountering a Necromancer in a scene that felt like something out of The Fellowship of the Ring. The presence of both slapstick humor and dark foreshadowing mere scenes away from each other was awkward, and trying to seamlessly connect it to the trilogy felt jarring and unnatural to the overall narrative of The Hobbit.
Radagast – Alongside the film’s identity crisis, we’re introduced to one of the most off-putting and unnecessary characters in the entire film. Radagast, one of the few true wizards who exist in Middle Earth as a Snow White type who connects with nature to the degree that he has bird poop constantly in his beard, is one of them.
Radagast was neither funny nor interesting, and his presence in the movie was meant to build up one of the subplots that added to the awkward tonal shifts of the film as a whole. He was a strange vehicle for driving a subplot that barely surfaced within the book, and in many ways felt like the Jar Jar Binks of The Hobbit.
Enough CGI to make a video game blush - The nature of this blog should make it obvious that I love video games. The thing is, I love to play video games, not watch them, and thanks to gratuitous amounts of CGI scattered throughout, I couldn’t help but feel like I was actively watching a game take place in front of me for hours on end.
One of the things that made the original trilogy so unique was its use of actual actors for the roles of goblins and orcs. Even as a kid, I remember being creeped out by the look of them due to how organic and filthy they both looked and felt onscreen. All of that was completely thrown out the window in The Hobbit thanks to multiple CGI characters and enemies that looked like something out of a God of War or Skyrim-type video game. It’s hard for me to feel quite as nervous for the film’s heroes when I know they’re talking to and attacking a character made out of code, and the parts that starred these characters lacked the same brevity and intensity as the original movies, ruining much of the encounters between heroes and enemies throughout the film.
More convenient than a 7-Eleven on every street corner – All thirteen dwarves fell through a goblin stronghold, were almost crushed by boxing rock giants, were captured multiple times by different dangerous enemies, and fought dangerous foes throughout their journey through Middle Earth. Was anyone else bothered by the fact that all of them escaped from these encounters seemingly unscathed every single time? The only real scare we had was the brooding would-be king Thorin Oakenshield being attacked by the White Orc toward the end. And even then, he was well enough after being rescued to deliver the cliched sounds-angry-but-is-really-grateful-to-the-hero speech to Bilbo after they’re dropped off by the eagles.
Also, for being a group of seasoned dwarf warriors, they manage to do nothing substantial to any enemies throughout the film, always relying on Gandalf to come and save the day and pull them out of their predicament. It got to the point where I didn’t even fear for our heroes, because I always knew something would happen and they’d be saved, no matter how ridiculous the mechanism of saving would be. It was a convention that bothered me in the book as well, and seeing it played out in a live action setting only served to exacerbate my annoyance.
Do you agree with me? Completely disagree? Tell me what you loved and hated about The Hobbit in the comments below!