Posted on 3/25/13 09:08 PM
A decade ago Peter Jackson awed both critics and audiences with his film adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings Trilogy. With its talented cast, stellar production values, epic scale, and faithfullness to its source, Jackson's trilogy was one of the cinematic high points of the first years of the new millineum. Now, after much anticipation, he has returned to tell the story of how it all began, and he's gotten off to a very good start.
The Hobbit works, above all, because it has everything that made the earlier trilogy work. Firstly there's the rich cast of characters and the actors who play them. Ian McKellen remains as sagely, imposing, and playful as ever as Gandalf, and Andy Sirkis has lost none of his effect as Gollum. He's every bit as unsettling and pitiable as When we first met him, and his arguments with himself are every bit as fascinating and entertaining to watch. Martin Freeman likewise is perfectly cast as Bilbo, capturing all of his pluck, courage, and utter bewilderment at the situation he's gotten himself into.
And of course there are the dwarves. The young, headstrong, and somewhat foolish Fili and Kili fill much the same role here as Pippin and Merry did in the earlier films, and to equal effect. There's also the fiery tempered Gloin, the folksy, cheerful, and rather oblivious Dwalin, the cantankerous old Balin, looking like a miniature Santa, the comically rotund Bombur, and all the rest of the gang. They're as merry and rowdy a bunch of fellows as you'll ever meet, and their antics will often have you keeling over in laughter.
But as jolly and at times bufoonish as they may be, they are also powerful and deadly warriors, and none more so than their leader Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage). Strong willed and keen witted, with a seriousness and solumness that sets him apart from his companions, Thorin has an unmistakable aura of greatness. From the first glance it is visible to all that he posesses incredible fortitude and determination, and that he was born to lead. He is the kind of man (or Dwarf) who inspires those around him to great deeds, and surpasses them with his own.
Even characters who had only a brief appearence in the book are greatly fleshed out here, both in the narrative and physical sense. I only faintly remember Azog the orc lord, but here he makes a most imposing and menacing villain, his bone white skine and bulging muscles reminding me of the sinister aliens from Prometheous. On the other end of the spectrum is the corpulent goblin king, who manages to be more revolting than Jabba the Hut. By far the most delightful addition was nature loving wizard Radagast the Brown. Though he was only given brief mention in the novel, Jackson has made him into one of the most odball and effective comic relief characters in recent years. I leave it to you to discover his marvelous mode of transportation.
As important as the characters is the story they inhabit, and this obviously draws from a very good one. Anyone who's read the book or has children who have will no doubt be familiar with the tale of how Bilbo is plucked from his peaceful existance in the Shire to join thirteen dwarves on their quest to recover their lost kingdom from the fearsome dragon Smaug. And for those of you who aren't, I just told you the story, so there.
Jackson has been as faithful to the story this time as he was the last, with great attention given to the most beloved parts. The 'riddles in the dark' scene is exaclty the way I imagined it when I first read it years ago, and identical word for word to its source. Even better in my opinion is the hilarious encounter with the three trolls. This one scene better captured the spirit of the old Three Stooges than the Farely Brothers' entire movie.
And there is a great deal of action and sustained battle scenes, all of them very good. I especially enjoyed the running fight through the goblin caverns, fought up and down across and rickety walkways and across collapsing bridges at breakneck speed as hordes of goblins appear from every crevice. Another high point was the flashpoint to the battle outside Moria, in which hundreds of orcs and dwarves charge and hack at each other across the rocky slopes. And for sheer visual impact, nothing equals the stone giants. Seeing the very mountains come to life and do battle with one another as the heroes desperately hang on for dear life, it was a hundred times more awesome than I had imagined it.
The nearly three hour runtime has given Jackson time to include practially every scene from the book, many in greater detail than Tolkien wrote them. This is an asset in that no fan will be dissapointed because their favorite part was left out. But at the same time this is also The Hobbit's biggest flaw. The fact is that maybe not all the scenes from the book needed to be in the movie, at least not at the length that they are here. At several points I had the feeling that was a three hour movie with only two and a half worth of material. I'm glad that the filmmakers didn't try to cover the entire book in one film, but I do wonder if two movies might have been a better idea than the planned three.
Still, The Hobbit was a very good film overall, with good acting, better effects, much for children and adults alike to enjoy. It may not quite measure up to the Lord of the Rings films, but it was both charming and highly entertaining, and I have high hopes for the next two installments.