When I first heard that Peter Jackson was turning The Hobbit into two movies, knowing how ‘complete’ the extended LOTR films were, I figured maybe it made some sense somehow. But the news that it had since been decided to mutate it into a trilogy of films made me fear the worst. Having now seen The Hobbit, I have to say my fears have been realised. Because this film is not The Hobbit. You could tell The Hobbit in a three-hour movie easily enough, and God knows this long movie is already just shy of three hours, but Jackson isn’t telling us The Hobbit‘s story here. It’s The Hobbit with lots of LOTR prequel stuff thrown in that is simply unnecessary; so many times during this movie I kept on thinking, ‘hang on, what’s this doing here?’. I know many Tolkien die-hards despise the LOTR films, and can only imagine how much those guys must hate what has been done with The Hobbit. Over the course of three films when watched on disc in four years time as a box set, this may make some sense but Jackson is fooling no-one here if he’s trying to convince us this is an adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Liberties are being taken here. Whether its about giving us more Tolkien or fleecing us for more ticket sales/blu-ray disc releases we’ll just have to wait and see.
There is much to admire in the film. I loved the colour palette, deep reds and golds that reminded me of those wonderful Tolkien calenders the brothers Hildebrandt created in the 1970s. In that respect the film has a ‘look’ perhaps more faithful to the original Tolkien than the LOTR films did with their own muted palette. Martin Freeman is a very fine Bilbo, lending a surprising gravatas to the part. Gollum is always a marvel. You get the feeling McKellen could do Gandalf in his sleep, he’s so perfect as the wizard.
But its a long, long film, and much of the film is simply a collection of the very worst excesses of the LOTR films. The worst CGI tomfoolery of Fellowship‘s Moria is exaggerated during the escape from the goblin kings lair into a videogame platform-game sequence, more Nintendo Super Mario than Tolkien. When said Goblin King turns up on the bridge to block the escape in a weird reversal of Fellowship‘s Balrog moment, well, a feeling that I was watching a LOTR compendium surfaced and not for the first time.
Related to the wildly OTT CGI, impossible virtual-camera moves racing down vast canyons and spinning around characters and set-pieces in long single shots just irritate me and take me out of the film. Even in a fantasy move there has to be some grounding of reality? Characters plunge down abyssal falls and rise without hardly a bruise or scratch. Its all very reminiscent of the worse excesses of Jacksons King Kong remake where you could sense he didn’t know when to hold back. Which raises the question- flawed as they may have been, were the LOTR films a lucky accident, in the sense that, like the original Star Wars trilogy, fx limitations actually made them better movies?
(And forgive me for being mildly pedantic, but internal logic begins to stretch credibility- excuse a mild spoiler here by skipping to the next paragraph if you haven’t seen the film yet, but…. at the close of the film our heroes have been rescued, in yet another verbatim reprise of a LOTR moment, by giant eagles who promptly drop our heroes off on a high hill overlooking the remaining long and dangerous trek ahead of them. The question is therefore raised but not answered- why not simply ask the eagles to fly them the rest of the way and get us to the third film already? I mean, there’s still two more films to go. )
I realise I sound very critical of the film. I did quite enjoy it; I certainly enjoyed retuning to Middle Earth, seeing familiar faces, hearing Shore’s familiar score. But it does seem very… well, self-indulgent, as if editing has become a lost art, replaced by wild excess. You can imagine the execs, still flush with the success of the LOTR films, being unable to say no to Jackson’s every whim.
Walking out of the cinema I remarked to my wife; “well, at nearly three hours already, at least there shouldn’t be any extended version this time.” Wrong, of course. Warners have since announced an intent to release the theatrical cut on disc in May with an extended cut next Autumn prior to the second film. Well I guess that’s my question answered at the start of all this regards getting fleeced or not.