Sunday, 20 January 2013

Film Review: 'The Hobbit'

There must be a million reviews of ‘The Hobbit’ out there already - I’ve seen a few myself - and opinions are fairly mixed. Some say it’s great, no problem, and some say it’s a fun film, even if it’s not quite true to the book, and some say it’s a travesty. I don’t agree with any of those. It’s not great, it’s not a whole heap of fun, but it’s not a total travesty either.

It was always obvious that changes were going to have to be made from the book’s plot to accommodate the needs of cinema in the 21st century, and I’m not one of those who objects to the introduction of the pale orc to represent a visible Big Bad over the course of the three movies. I don’t object to some lengthening of the story, although possibly with a little effort it could just about have been squeezed into two films (she said sarcastically). I don’t much mind that Bilbo is something of a passenger for most of this film. I certainly don’t object to a sexed-up Thorin - who’d have thought, after seeing Gimli, that dwarves could be so attractive? But still, I found the film a disappointment, overall.
What I liked:

Gollum - Andy Serkis and the special effects/motion capture team stole the show (again). The whole ‘riddles in the dark’ episode was brilliant. Gandalf was, not surprisingly, terrific again, as were Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. Their meeting at Rivendell was, I suppose, the famous council, which I thought could have been made a more important moment. And weren’t they supposed to drive the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur as a result? Not sure when that happened. I liked the whole of the Rivendell action, actually. The elves riding in as the dwarves closed ranks in suspicion was a good moment. The music was once more very effective. The dwarves singing in Bag End was the one moment of the film which sent shivers down my spine. That, and the dragon’s eye. I liked the goblin king as well. And Middle Earth (aka New Zealand) was spectacular, as always.

What I disliked:

Young Bilbo. Sorry, but Martin Freeman is and will forever be that nice Tim from ‘The Office’ (UK version) and hapless Arthur Dent from ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’, roles which he was born to play. Bilbo? Not so much. He was a little too understated and human for my taste, although I may be in a minority of one on that point. The Shire was, somehow, not quite as effective as in ‘Lord of the Rings’, possibly because the director thought the audience knew all about it already. The Bag End interiors were very effective, but the exteriors lost something, I felt. Radagast the Brown - no, let’s not talk about that <shudder>.

The biggest problem for me was the endless over-the-top chased-by-orcs (or wargs or goblins or whatever) moments. I withdraw all my complaints about the Moria scenes in ‘Fellowship of the Ring’; the escape from the goblins’ lair was far worse and possibly the most ridiculous piece of cinema I’ve ever seen. And it went on and on and on. Then there were the mountain giants - how long can we cling on to a six-inch-wide ledge on a mountain engaged in battle with another mountain? Oh, indefinitely, obviously. And not a single dwarf is so much as bruised, apparently. And the pine trees? No, don’t get me started on the pine trees. And then we have to have the dramatic confrontation between the sexed-up Thorin Oakenshield (with his oaken shield, naturally) and the created Big Bad, and Bilbo’s heroic moment, and all that stuff beloved of Hollywood which wasn’t in the book and is only there because the story was split over multiple films, but we still need to have resolution for this part.

This is not a bad film, I suppose. Taken at face value, it’s a big budget, special effects heavy, typical piece of Hollywood-esque action, with the wargs substituting for cars in the chase sequences, and no explosions. For those who like that sort of thing, it’s a middle-of-the-road effort. As a portrayal of ‘The Hobbit’ - well, it was only ever loosely connected to the book.

Where it fails is in comparison with the three ‘Lord of the Rings’ films. There are glimpses of the greatness of those works in the Rivendell scenes, and some more thoughtful moments with the dwarves. But it otherwise fails to capture any echoes of the magic and the majesty of the greater work. It substitutes relentless action and chase sequences for genuine heart-stopping moments. The escapes are eye-rollingly bad, and there is too much effort expended on out-SFX-ing the predecessors. There are nods to the earlier films, but they are both self-concious and self-indulgent. Worse, it’s forgettable. I came out of the theatre a bare three and a half hours ago, and already there’s very little that sticks in my mind, good or bad.

I find it quite distressing to write this. I regard ‘The Lord of the Rings’ as a defining moment of my life (both the book and the film). I was overjoyed to see the Shire realised exactly as I’d imagined it, I shivered when the Moria orcs chittered and the Balrog appeared, Helm’s Deep was just awesome, Edoras was amazing and as for the Ride of the Rohirrim - I cried. I never believed anyone could reproduce it so perfectly. There were oddities and excesses, of course, but mostly it was unbelievably wonderful. But this - it’s just a film, as disposable as popcorn. Will I watch the rest of the series? Of course, and perhaps Peter Jackson can pull a rabbit out of his hat, but I’m not optimistic.


  1. I've hesitated to go see The Hobbit, and you're confirming much of what I had felt would be included, and excluded.

    There is a solid story there already in The Hobbit, and Hollywood (Jackson) feels it (he) can tell a better story--and stretching it out to three movies to 'tell' one book/novel's story, where it took a similar three films to tell the whole Lord of the Rings Trilogy?

    I may watch The Hobbit (any of the parts) if it (they) comes out on DVD (cheap) or Netflix or something, but your review helped me decide I won't be paying theater prices for the experience.

    1. I hesitated to go see 'The Fellowship of the Ring', because I didn't want to see my favourite book destroyed before my eyes. I ended up seeing it 12 times in the theatre, and innumerable times on DVD and again with the extended editions. I saw 'The Return of the King' at the very first public showing in the UK's largest theatre, and it remains an unforgettable experience. I forgave Jackson the excesses for the parts he got completely right (which was most of it).

      But this - is different. I was nervous for all the same reasons as with LOTR, but this time my fears were mostly realised. Jackson could have made it the one-film funny children's story it was written as, or he could have made it the prequel to LOTR, or he could have made it a simple action flick, but trying to do everything at once, plus throwing in all those self-referential fanwank moments just doesn't work, sadly.