I probably don’t need to tell you, Gentle Readers, how much Tolkien’s classic novel The Hobbit means to me. In many ways, seeing the Rankin-Bass animated movie when I was eight was a life-changing experience for me. It led to me reading the novels, which led to me playing D&D, which led to…well….many, many other good things in my life, including writing these articles.
I probably don’t need to tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to Peter Jackson’s return to Middle-Earth with a trilogy of movies based on The Hobbit. I’ve been hanging on every piece of news, every casting rumor, every detail I could locate. I’ve been checking TheOneRing.net on a daily basis, reading articles, watching production diaries, speculating in the forums.
What you might not know, however, is how nervous I’ve been about this movie. Those dwarves looked…odd…in the first pictures we had of them. The 48 frames-per-second (fps) process sounded interesting, but people seeing sections of the movie were reporting that it looked cheap, or strange, or even that they were getting sick. Occasional bits of oddness like Benedict Cumberbatch saying that Sauron would be present at the “Five Legions War” would make the purist in me taste bile. I’ve kind of been a nervous wreck in the days leading up to the U.S. premiere.
I’m happy to say that, having now seen the film, I am extremely pleased. I’ll try to keep this review as spoiler free as possible, but it’s still a review, so I can’t keep it totally spoiler free. Be warned.
That’s a Lot of Frames
Let me get this out of the way. There are going to be people who love the new 48 fps. There are going to be people who hate it. There are going to be people for whom it blends into the background, and there are going to be people who feel it distracts them and pulls them out of the movie.
Personally, I loved it. It was jarring to see for the first time. It’s almost like watching a documentary shot on video, and you almost expect it to look cheap and cheesy. Honestly, though, it’s incredibly fluid and more realistic. I never got used to it, exactly, but it became part of the overall look of the movie for me.
Old Familiar Faces
This movie is a love-fest for me of most of the people I adored from The Lord of the Rings. Seeing the Ians (Holm & McKellan), Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Christopher Lee, and Cate Blanchet reprising their roles was like seeing a bunch of old friends back together again.
Even returning to old familiar spots in Middle-Earth felt good. Bag End is just as beautiful, and it feels like we spend a lot more time here than we did in the earlier films. Other spots, like Rivendell, the Stone Trolls’ Glade, and even surprising cameos for places like Weathertop and Moria feel like they’re welcoming us back for more.
I needn’t say how brilliant all the returning actors are. I do want to call out several of the newcomers.
Martin Freeman was born to play Bilbo Baggins. That is all. Since the first time, years before he was officially cast, when I heard his name suggested for the role, there has been no doubt in my mind of this fact. Finally seeing his performance has born this out.
Richard Armitage is the Vigo Mortensen of this movie for me. What I mean when I say this is that, when I heard Vigo had been cast as Aragorn, I said “Oh, my God, I’m so excited!” and my friends said “Who?” Richard Armitage is that actor in this film. He’s also brilliant as Thorin Oakenshield…he’s incredibly tragic and driven. People have been comparing him to a character from Shakespeare, and I do not disagree.
Ken Stott as Balin and James Nesbitt as Bofur deserve a little nod as well. Ken Stott’s Balin is wise, caring, and kind to Bilbo. Bofur has one of my favorite moments in the film, when he realizes how much he sympathizes with Bilbo’s homesickness.
Casual Pace, Lighter Tone
There’s a lot in this movie, but the pacing still didn’t feel ridiculously breakneck, and it slows down for the important stuff. There’s a beautiful prologue that sets up the whole reason for this quest in the first place. There’s also an extended flashback sequence to the Battle of Azanulbizar, where Thorin got his name of Oakenshield. Time is taken to linger lovingly through the Trolls sequence, to wander through Rivendell a bit, to discover Moon Runes, and more.
One thing that some may find off-putting is how light the tone of this movie is. The dwarves can be quite comical, to say nothing of the wackiness of Radagast the Brown and his bunny-sled. Bilbo and Gandalf both give some excellent humorous turns to their time on screen, and even Saruman has some funny moments, believe it or not. This isn’t shocking to me; The Hobbit was always a lighter story than its sequels. At one point in The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo says to his friends, “This is no There and Back Again journey. I am flying from deadly peril into deadly peril.” That quote perfectly sums up the difference here. The fate of the world is not in the balance. This is simply an adventure.
One of my big fears (shared by my husband) was that, especially in the new 48 fps, the CGI characters would look fake. While the CGI wasn’t perfect (the wargs in particular can use just a little more work), some of it is shockingly good. The Trolls look incredibly lifelike, and, as good as Gollum looked in LotR, he looks a thousand times better now, even with all those extra frames.
There are some brilliant CGI environments, as well. Goblintown is incredibly breathtaking, reminding me of Moria, but with a far more alien framework, as dwarves never mined here. And speaking of dwarves, the Kingdom of Erebor is a glimpse of what Moria might’ve looked like in its heyday.
And a CGI shot, really the last shot of the movie, gave me chills and has me looking forward to next December already. That’s all I’ll say.
This movie had much to recommend it, and only one or two things I disliked. One favorite moment I’ll remember for quite a while is the dwarves singing “Far Over the Misty Mountains Cold”. I’ve been hearing versions of this song since I was eight, and this is the first one that really felt like it caught the resonance of what this song’s emotional content must be for the dwarves of Erebor. They’re singing a song about their exile from their last great kingdom, and the hymn or dirge-like quality of the song in the film struck a tremendous chord for me. That alone would’ve made this film a success, but there’s so much else to enjoy. Go see it, and make up your own mind.
Have you seen the film yet? Did you see it with all the new technical bells & whistles? Did you enjoy it, or feel it was a terrible mistake? Let us all know.