SPOILERS for the film & the first third of the novel will happen, but I’ll stay away from spoilers for the conclusion of the story.
First, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were a lot of things I really liked about this first instalment, most of them to do with its execution. It was filmed beautifully and as I saw it in 2D, I didn’t have to worry about the whole 3D HFR debate.
The Hobbit is basically all I loved about the Lord of the Rings – New Zealand is still magnificent, the costumes, props, sets and special effects are still top-notch, the battle scenes are still amazing, and the casting is still spot-on – only with a less doom and end-of-the-world feeling to it.
It was great to see some of my favourite scenes from the book on screen, but some of the additions and changes felt clumsy. It obviously strains under all the setup it has to do for the next two instalments, and is definitely a ‘Part One’ film.
I was mostly distracted by the differences in tone throughout. The film kept going back and forth between tough war scenes (displaying Thorin as Hollywood’s mandatory Hot Tragic Hero) and cheap fart-and-burp jokes (aimed at the younger audience). I couldn’t take the tragedy seriously on the heels of ‘Look, the Troll’s bum smells’, and I ended up rolling my eyes at moments that were meant to be moving.
My Favourite Bits
Martin Freeman’s Face
His facial expressions, his posture and acting – everything he does is just right. He’s such a perfect choice for the part and I know I’ll see the film again mostly for his superb portrayal of the Hobbit. It’s really sad when an adaptation doesn’t do justice to a much beloved character and this is the direct opposite. I loved him before, I love him even better now. Badass Martin Freeman, FTW!
Gollum was awesome. I loved the whole sequence, from Bilbo hiding under giant mushrooms to his leaping over Gollum to escape the cave. The little tweaks they made were well chosen – I particularly liked the waistcoat buttons. I loved that they still kept a few of the riddles before ‘What do I have in my pocket?’, developing a sense of danger as the riddles get tougher. There were also great additions like Sting’s glow extinguishing when Gollum killed the goblin and the ring slowly falling onto Bilbo’s finger in a clear call-back to the same shot in The Fellowship of the Ring.
Gollum was, as ever, suitably creepy and I had no difficulty in believe Bilbo would spare his life out of pity. Although Gandalf’s advising Bilbo that ‘Courage is also in knowing when not to take a life, but when to spare one’ felt really on the nose.
The New Stuff
The Bad Guys
I was ambivalent about the White Orc Azog, who beheads Thorin’s grandfather Thror. There is good narrative value in having a villain more immediately threatening than Smaug (currently hibernating under piles of Dwarven gold Scrooge-McDuck-style), but I thought his obsession with obliterating the line of Durin didn’t really make sense. I also wondered why the Orcs had to have a spooky Orc-tongue with subtitles when the Goblin had no problems speaking English in funny accents. And why did Bilbo charge straight into Azog’s midriff? If you’re going up against a huge monster they call ‘The Defiler’ and you have an invisibility ring, use it!
The third antagonist introduced was ‘The Necromancer’, who may or may not be Sauron (it wasn’t very clear, but that might have been intentional). Now in the book, Gandalf tells Thorin fairly early on that it was this Necromancer who imprisoned, tortured and killed his father, Thrain. Understandably, Thorin is sad and upset and I could have used that emotion from him, instead of his usual cold anger. It would also have tied in the Necromancer material with the rest of the film, instead of it being a rather strange and puzzling side bit.
The Good Guys (and Saruman)
Gandalf discusses the issue at length with the White Council, who don’t want to let him investigate. I wasn’t invested in the conflict at all, as it didn’t tie in properly with the rest of the plot and we know that Gandalf will research the Necromancer whether Saruman like it or not. It’s fun to see known characters again, but that was definitely when the film felt longest to me.
Another addition was Radagast, the Brown Wizard, who is not only the Doctor, but also saves his pet hedgehog from certain death in his first (really long) scene. I was a bit distracted the streak of dried bird poo down his face, but he was good fun to watch, if a bit OTT. His scene being chased by the Warg-mounted Orcs was so comical it wasn’t scary any more.
An Info-Dumpy Prologue
We’re shown the dragon Smaug attacking the Dwarves’ mountain and forcing them into exile, with a sneak peek at the Arkenstone and Legolas’ father Thranduil (both will be important later on). It makes sense to add a battle scene or two to the less-than-action-packed first half of the film, but I’m not sure that right off the bat was the most effective place for it. Rather than showing Thorin’s past as a tragic hero, then Thorin himself, cold and arrogant, why not start by showing his less likeable traits and then revealing the source of his anger and determination? I wish I’d been allowed to see Bilbo’s reaction to Thorin’s tale.
Why the conversation between Bilbo and Frodo, and why talk about the Sacqville-Bagginses? They won’t need foreshadowing or an introduction to be funny if and when they show up later on. The name dropping made the fangirl in me squee, but the scene just felt too long. If they were trying to establish a connection between The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, why not focus on Gandalf and Bilbo’s early interactions? I would have liked to see Bilbo inviting Gandalf for dinner the next day as he does in the book, rather than Gandalf leaving without a word, only to return with thirteen really quite rude house guests.
Shouldn’t I LIKE the Dwarves?
I hated what they did with the Dwarves when they first visit Bilbo. People around us in the cinema were laughing at their hijinks but I couldn’t see the funny. How am I supposed to blame Bilbo for being unhappy about strangers raiding his food stores and messing up his house? Loud and boisterous is one thing, acting like jerks is another.
Thirteen Dwarves surely eat enough that Bilbo would have been annoyed without them being so completely rude. By comparison, the scene where the Dwarves do the dishes singing and throwing plates around was lots of fun and gives me a reason to like them because they’re helping out.
Bilbo and his guests are supposed to be enjoying their dinner together, and I wish that had made it past the promo shots.
It will be interesting to see what the film-makers do with the idea that Thorin’s cousin Dain refused to join the quest, given that the character appears towards the end of the novel. Of course, I expect the Dwarves to succeed in their battles in this first half because I know who makes it to which part of the novel later. So I’m not surprised when they turn out to be massive bad-asses in battle, but their victories would be less ridiculous if Thorin hadn’t taken pains to say that the Company only has a couple of good fighters in it, the rest being only good at eating and drinking.
I really enjoyed the film, but I do think they stretched it too much. Two three-hour films or three two-hour films would have been fine, but nine hours total is just pushing it. Perhaps the better format for the story would be a mini-series, but a TV budget wouldn’t allow for such breath-taking execution. Will most definitely see again, hopefully next week with my Mum, who read me The Hobbit in the first place.