Review: The Hobbit

The Hobbit is off to a good start at being a better set of movies than the Lord of the Rings.    I won’t compare the first Hobbit movie to the whole LotR trilogy, but measuring it against the Fellowship of the Ring is fair.  I did not see the Hobbit either in 3D or in 48fps (I think).

I went in to the movie already having read the reviews and hearing some complaints with the film.  The two main complaints I heard were:  1)  Overly long and boring; takes too long for the action to start, and 2) Over-use of CG, where the Orcs used to be live actors.

In summary, my response to 1 is “poo”, and 2 is “poo poo”.  This a fracking awesome movie.  It’s not the Lord of the Rings, but that’s true for the book as well.  It take a while for the action to start, but the slow build is just fine for screen drama and dialogue.  The portrayal of Bilbo is fantastic, and there’s enough comedic levity that makes this feel like The Hobbit and not the Lord of the Rings.

From a technical standpoint, I was worried that the use of CG was going to challenge my sense of the uncanny valley.  However, it really didn’t.  None of the CG broke my sense of continuity with the movie, with the exception of one second shot of an eagle’s head.  The goblins, particularly the goblin king, were FANTASTIC.

This movie isn’t just the Hobbit.  It’s the Hobbit with the surrounding background notes and lore, and, it seems, some creative license from Peter Jackson (the White Orc doesn’t make an appearance in the book, and this is a larger break from the original than having Arwen feature instead of Glorfindel in Fellowship of the Ring).

From an enticing prologue showing the Dragon Smaug take Erebor from the dwarves, we move into a transition scene that leads into the Fellowship of the Ring, before we flash back to the beginning of Bilbo’s story.  It’s a masterful transition, linking this movie to Peter Jackson’s prior works in a way that’s fun and seamless.  Finally we get into the opening chapters of the book itself, and it flows pretty faithfully until the introduction later of the White Orc.

The White Orc, in my opinion, is the only weak part of the movie.  It’s superfluous, and while it is done well (the CG orc doesn’t bother me), I just can’t bring myself to care about it.  I suspect that’s because I’m familiar with the book, so it seems a needless excess.  I suspect for one who hasn’t read the book, it will fit right in with everyone else.

The trolls.  These were great.  They talk, which breaks expectations from the trolls in the Lord of the Rings.  I like that they have personalities (as they do in the book), and there’s a bit of British cheekiness to them.  It’s through scenes like this we are reminded there is a little bit more light-heartedness to the Hobbit, even as the darker, more serious themes of Lord of the Rings are gradually stirred into the mix.

Radagast.  This is tangential to the book, and its inclusion into the main storyline I found a welcome addition of spice to the story.  I loved Radagast’s notice of Dol Guldur and the necromancer… and especially the encounter of the Nazgul Witch-King (although in canon, I believe the Khamul, the least of the Nazgul, was the lieutenant of Dol Guldur).

On the notes of continuity, back to the prologue, it talked about how Thror had become corrupted by greed.  It would have been great to see a mention (or later on learn) that he has one of the seven dwarven rings of power–which is bound to the One Ring, and which had been touched by Sauron in its making just like the Nine Rings for Men were.  Maybe they’ll mention this in the later 2 movies.

Now we get into White Orc territory.  Meh.  Ok.  Whatever.  I’ll get used to it.  Apparently he is canon, kind of.  He was the king of the Khazad-Dum goblins (remember, goblins are orcs in the books).  Moving on.

Rivendell was done well.  Loved the dwarves interactions with the elves, and Eldrond seemed cooler this time.  The council b/w Eldrond, Galadriel, Saruman and Gandalf also gives a great link into the deeper story building towards Lord of the Rings.  I remember reading accounts of these “lead up” councils in the Unfinished Tales and Silmarillion and really enjoyed the back story.  I think its inclusion here enriches the movie.

I liked that we see the stone giants.  Interesting interpretation.  Didn’t ring totally awesome with me, but it was in the book.

Goblins.  Goblins are hella cool.  I hate that Orcs and Goblins are different in Peter Jackson’s version of the world, but that’s not a complaint with The Hobbit, per se.  That change was made in the Lord of the Rings as well.  In the books, goblins are the Orcs that live in the Misty Mountains.  The Uruk-Hai are half-orcs, half-human (orcs raped women), not a cross between orcs and goblins, as the movies state.  However, if you’re going to have Orcs and Goblins different, they did a great job of doing so.  The Goblin King was both grotesque and cheeky all at the same time… Star Wars done right.

Gollum.  This scene is the highlight of this movie.  That’s all I’ll say.

A climactic battle with the White Orc (yawn) and being rescued by Eagles (ok, now we’re back on track again), and left looking over the treetops of Mirkwood to see the Lonely Mountain in the distance before the credits roll.

I left with the same rush from this movie as I had after the first time I saw Fellowship of the Ring in the theaters.

So why do I say the Hobbit may be a better movie?  As much as I love the Fellowship (it’s my favorite of the three books), I think the Hobbit had fewer things that annoyed me.  To this day, I hate Kate Blanchett’s rendition of Galadriel, with her over-slow dramatic speech.  It’s better in the Hobbit than in the Fellowship, and I still can’t get over the stupid photo-shop filter effect they use on her when Frodo tempts her with the Ring.  I love the Bakshi version better, which was closer to her warmth in the book.  In the Fellowship, they take an awesome actress and make her look like a melodramatic LARPer.  In the end, it’s this main thing that drives the decision for me.  Both are awesome movies, but the White Orc bothers me less than Galadriel the Melodramatic LARPer.

Of all the Lord of the Rings movies, the Fellowship is the one that is most focused on the idea of a “quest” or “adventure”.  The latter two movies are just as much war movies as they are about the quest.  In this sense, Fellowship and the Hobbit share a similarity: they are a linear journey, classically aligned with the whole group together going through a serial set of encounters.  If I had to qualitatively describe the difference, I would say that the Hobbit evokes a sense of wonder, and the Fellowship of the Ring evokes a sense of dread.  I love both of them.  Bilbo chooses to go on the adventure in the Hobbit.  Frodo can’t escape the quest in the Fellowship.  (One could argue that Frodo too chooses to take on the quest, but with the Ring he really has no alternative choice).

I recognize that my “meh” about the White Orc is somewhat related to my personal experience with the material.  If I take away such bias and look at the movie as a standalone start to a 3-part trilogy, I give The Hobbit a 10/10.

PS.  If this article posted, the world didn’t end.

2 thoughts on “Review: The Hobbit

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