I’ve fallen so behind with my posts! In what became an added stress to a generally fantastic, if busy, week, I only arrived home from the screening of The Hobbit last Wednesday at midnight, so didn’t have time to write up a review. This will be a very short review, summarising my thoughts, and probably reiterating what many better film reviewers have said. It’s also from the perspective of someone who’s read the book before, albeit half their life ago.
I was very excited about this film. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would easily rank among my favourite book/films, and I expected The Hobbit to be just the same. I had heard that it is nothing like LOTR, which is to be expected. You don’t even have to read the books to see the vast differences in tone, simply noting the difference in font size gives a clear idea! The Hobbit is much lighter than LOTR with far more comedy. So how did it do?
Not bad. The Hobbit is far from perfect, but it is an admirable addition to the franchise. Visually, it is possible to see the development of computer generated imagery in the last decade, which is prevalent throughout almost the entirety of the film. This gives it a very fantastical, sometimes almost ‘cartoony’ feel, which matches The Hobbit’s tone. However, I feel this sometimes goes too far. While the landscapes are absolutely stunning, I agree with many critics that the film gains no favours from having computer-generated orcs and goblins. Particularly in the case of major characters, such as Azog and the Goblin King, who would have benefited by the physical presence of an actor. One reviewer stated it was watching a video game, and I quite agree.
The acting was, on the whole, brilliant. I was interested in seeing Martin Freeman as Bilbo, having previously seen him as John Watson in the BBC’s Sherlock, and he did not disappoint. He will forever be Bilbo to me, and carries on well the character which Ian Holm first developed in LOTR, bringing his own attributes to the part but clearly playing the same character. Returning characters were excellent as ever, if sometimes clearly 10 years older – there did not seem to be much attempt to hide Ian McKellan’s ageing. Christopher Lee played Saruman well and had the same presence he always brings to roles, which is admirable considering he turned ninety earlier this year. The dwarves were much as I imagined them, though few were developed to any significant degree and were mostly used for comic effect. I’m not a great fan of unnecessary comedy so most of this passed me by, but it was good for what it was.
But the clear standout of both the effects and acting was Gollum. Andy Serkis gives an astounding performance once again as the deranged, deadly yet pitiful character. Gollum looks ever so subtly younger, though it is difficult to state how – a tribute to both the acting and animation. The difference between ‘Sméagol’ and ‘Gollum’ is immediately noticeable; the eyes flash from cute and innocent to calculating and dangerous in an instant. I expect more awards to come Gollum’s way in the near future. Gollum also has the honour of providing some of the few genuine laughs I had during the film – particularly, during the game of riddles, his schizophrenic exchange: “Oh, I know, I know!” “Shut up!” And, put simply, he was so cute! I felt his despair upon losing the Ring, however wrong I knew it to be. Easily the most sympathetic and pitiful character in the whole film.
One major problem the film had was pace. I appreciated the cinematic display of backstory to open the film, giving it the same grandeur feel which LOTR had. However I felt it was unnecessary to include ‘modern-day’ Bilbo and Frodo. This assumes the audience has seen the LOTR trilogy and makes it appear to be a spin-off rather than a film of its own right. The Hobbit was published before LOTR and it feels wrong for the film to be cast along as a ‘younger sibling’ in this way, as it often is. The film takes far too long to leave Hobbiton and truly get started – about an hour, compared to around 10% through the book. And once it does leave Hobbiton, despite following the book closely, is simply a series of dangerous situations followed by a fight and victory – particularly once the party enter the Misty Mountains. I found myself bored by fight scene after fight scene, each one similar to the last, so that the final climactic battle between Thorin, Azog and Bilbo had little effect on me. I was merely glad once it had ended.
Finally, the film is less realistic than LOTR. Perhaps this was intentional, but it leads to more potential criticisms of an overly fantastical nature and being like a video game. The two main examples occur during the fight scenes to escape from the Goblin Kingdom. Firstly, and this is also a criticism I have of LOTR, the Dwarves must be astonishingly accomplished fighters to take on the entire Goblin army and escape unscathed. Their invincibility continues as they plummet into the depths of the mines, bouncing from the walls, and again land unscathed. Are we to assume that dwarves in fact contain several layers of blubber? There are various other fantasy elements which feel out of place, such as the fight between the giants, which although not unrealistic in themselves – clearly, as this is a fantasy film – the lack of explanation leaves me wondering how it is possible. Though there are no limits to the imagination in fantasy worlds, they must have rules and explanations, otherwise the story has no boundaries and feels unconvincing. This is something Tolkein usually achieved to great success within his work, causing this to jar even more. And most confusingly, why couldn’t the eagles fly them all the way to Erebor rather than planting them in front of a deep, dangerous forest?
I’ve heaped much criticism onto The Hobbit, but I do need to reiterate that I heavily enjoyed the film. It was never going to live up to the legacy of LOTR, and that aside it didn’t, in my opinion, quite reach its potential. Despite that, it’s still an excellent film that will long be remembered, if doomed to be eternally shadowed by its older sibling – much like the book itself.
Final rating: 8/10