“There and back again: a hobbit’s tale by Bilbo Baggins.” My only question is, why do we have to come back again?
If you click over to rottentomatoes.com and locate The Hobbit, you will find that only 65% of reviewers gave it a “fresh” (positive) rating. To the 35% I have only one word: SHAME!
This only slightly above-average cumulative rating shocked me both before and after I had seen the movie, especially since the (apparently more artistically knowledgeable) audience gave it a much more accurate 81% approval rating.
Ok, there are a few caveats and introductory statements to get out of the way here.
1. I am a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, having seen each installment at least half a dozen times.
2. I have read The Lord of the Rings books about two and a half times.
3. I have read The Silmarillion 1.5 times.
4. I have read The Children of Hurin.
5. And yes, I have read the hobbit (three times, in case you were wondering).
So in conclusion (beyond establishing that I occasionally have difficulty finishing long, meaty books), yes – I do have a fairly large amount of pro-anything-Tolkien, pro-Peter-Jackson bias. And no – I’m not the biggest Tolkien fanatic of all time. Not even close. I haven’t soaked in all the materials and resources regarding Tolkien’s timeless world, nor am I one of the (truly admirable) people who read lotr once a year. But I truly believe that nearly all the objections to The Hobbit can be erased by understanding the nature of Tolkien’s writings, the world of Ea (in which Middle Earth is contained), and the intriguing direction that Jackson looks to be taking this trilogy.
So let’s list the objections one at a time…
1. The framerate is distracting:
If you are a casual moviegoer and your movie experience was ruined by the 48fps, then I really do feel for you. If you’re a critic, making an unholy amount of money to rip perfectly acceptable movies to shreds and then elevate overly artsy ones and their creators to sainthood, please save the wear and tear on your keyboard. Your words are published on famous, reputable websites like rotten tomatoes so that you can review the movie, not the framerate you chose to watch it in. I don’t care if the screening showed it in black and white – please: just review the movie itself.
2. Deus Ex:
—WARNING— I make it a point to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but it is impossible to discuss this one without discussing plot elements. So if you still haven’t seen The Hobbit and don’t want to have any hints, you may want to skip to the next point.
People have complained that many of the important conflicts in The Hobbit were resolved by deus ex machina moments, some even going so far as to criticize Tolkien of a weak plot. The most prominent example of this type of conflict resolution is near the end where the company is rescued by giant eagles. Seem deus ex? Yes. Is it really? No. First, fans of the lotr trilogy will have recognized the moth that Gandalf saw while perched in the tree. In the lotr trilogy (when can we start calling it “The Original Trilogy”?), this was always a precursor to the eagles coming to Gandalf’s aid, as they did twice.
“Wait!” you seem to be saying, “the same cheap rescue THREE TIMES?!” But here is where knowledge of Tolkien lore explains the problem away. Ea is ruled (albeit fairly indirectly) by 14 angelic beings called the Valar. The chief of these beings, Manwe, was the lord of air and sky and was served by giant eagles. Why would he or his servants take notice of the company? Because Gandalf, and all the wizards, are Maiar, lesser angelic beings than the Valar, but powerful and important nonetheless.
3. The Hobbit novel is too short to provide enough plot for the trilogy
This objection has been raised by critics, friends and even family members. What these people fail to realize, however, is that The Hobbit is actually a far meatier book plotwise than any of the three lotr books. There are few long, drawn out travel sequences, and those that do pop up from time to time are spiced up by a sense of building tension. There is nothing like the chase of “the three hunters” from the Two Towers (blessedly summarized in a few minutes of movie time).
But this objection is completely debunked when you remember first that there is still more than half of the book to go, and that the third movie will apparently be drawing on sources outside of The Hobbit, or at least exploring events that were not covered by The Hobbit. And that leads us to our next objection:
4. What happened to Gandalf?
Gandalf does tend to disappear. Fortunately, Jackson actually explains his absences in far more detail than Tolkien did. In the book, the gray wizard is extremely enigmatic, and disappears from or abruptly leaves the company a full three times (two of which are covered in this movie). In the book, we don’t get to see why. All we get to know is that a wizard “arrives precisely when he means to” and leaves precisely when he needs to. In the movie, we get to peak behind the curtain. We get to see some of his emotions, and we get to see the twisted plottings of the White Council and the reasons behind them that so mysteriously call him away in the book.
Something that Jackson helps us realize is that Gandalf, while interested in the affairs of hobbits and dwarves, is actually one of the most powerful beings in Middle Earth and has a responsibility to the bigger picture. We see that play out in the first Hobbit movie, and we’ll likely see it far more in the two movies to come.
5. The movie is too long/the pace is too slow
I have one question for you. Have you seen the lotr trilogy? Have you ever read Tolkien? The Hobbit runs 169 minutes. Here are the running times for the lotr movies:
The Fellowship of the Ring – 178 minutes (219 minutes in the extended version)
The Two Towers – 179 minutes (223 minutes in the extended version)
The Return of the King – 201 minutes (251 minutes in the extended version)
Just for fun, let’s throw in the last two films of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which was almost universally loved by critics and moviegoers alike:
The Dark Knight – 152 minutes
The Dark Knight Rises – 165 minutes
None of these movies scored less than 85% “fresh” from the critics. So length alone clearly isn’t the issue. The issue must be with pacing. And here, for the first time, I can actually see the detractors’ point. The movie has an unconventional pace. It spends a lot of time setting up the story and introducing the characters before the quest even begins. Some have complained that the Rivendell scene drags on too long as well. I understand these objections, but I fail to see why they would knock the movie out of the “fresh” category.
6. It’s a set up movie
Yes. It is. And no, it’s not as well-made as the lotr trilogy. Few movies are. But rather than take away from my enjoyment of the film, I loved seeing all the hints that Jackson dropped about the direction he is taking the trilogy. I loved the backstory. I loved the imagery. I loved the lore. I loved the languages, from elvish to orcish.
I even loved what Jackson changed. Bilbo wasn’t as funny as he was in the book, but he was more believable. That’s not a knock on Tolkien’s writing, but The Hobbit was an almost fairy-tale story and what was acceptable for the book is not necessarily acceptable for a movie that took itself seriously. I thoroughly enjoyed the introduction of Azog as the primary villain for this film. He wasn’t frightening in the horror movie sense, but he was extremely imposing and even (dare I say it?) epic.
You will notice that all the villains in the movie appear far larger than they did in lotr. This is because almost the entire film is shot from the dwarves’ perspective. So, yeah, not to be insensitive to Bilbo and his mates, but everyone really is massively tall in comparison. This visual element makes all the villains seem that much more impressive.
The Hobbit was also the most visually stunning movie I have ever seen, and I saw it in 2-D standard frame-rate to avoid the much-maligned distractions. You thought Middle Earth was beautiful the first time around? Try it now…. When can I move to New Zealand?
Gollum was amazing as expected. Andy Serkis’ portrayal made the character come alive yet again. Most impressive was his ability to bring out Gollum’s evil and his pitiable sadness to full affect in just a few scenes.
As a final point, I should say that while the Hobbit was not an exact adaptation of the book, it was a faithful one. There are, admittedly, a few pacing issues. But, having read much of Tolkien’s supporting/completing works, I am extremely excited to see where those allegedly irrelevant plot points will lead us.
Rating – 4.5-out-of-5. A few purely set-up scenes that skewed the pacing are the only reason this movie doesn’t have a perfect rating. It was beautiful, exciting, and has left me eagerly anticipating the next installments.