13 Dec 2012

The Hobbit Movie Review

Go and watch this film! Do it now! Do not wait for payday. Do not wait to read anymore reviews before going. And do not worry about all the whingeing and complaining there has been about it in the media.

I had not been planning to watch The Hobbit on the day of its release, but my wife, who grew up listening to The Lord of the Rings on an audio book, was so excited about it that we decided to go on the first day. Strangely, it has opened in cinemas here in England on the 13th, although the official release date was supposed to be the 14th.

We went into the cinema not knowing what to expect, because of all the negative comments that we had heard over the last few months. Peter Jackson had messed it up, they said. Greedy little man, who had decided to stretch a short book into three more-than-full-length feature films. Some said that the first film was draggy, with unnecessarily long sequences set in Hobbiton and a lengthy exposition about the history of the dwarves. Others claimed that the decision to make the film with a high frame rate was a mistake, which had made things look "plasticated" and inauthentic, and given the film the look of a 1970s BBC production along the lines of I, Claudius.


The Hobbit is excellent. It is better than any of the three Lord of the Rings films. It has better special effects, better acting, and most importantly, you do not have to put up with Viggo Mortensen's painful portrayal of Aragorn.

Jackson does take small liberties with the storyline. For example, Bilbo does not agree to join the dwarves on the night of the unexpected party. Nor does he have Gandalf rush in to hurry him on his way the next morning. Instead, Bilbo's decision is left to the last minute, till the next morning when he sees his unsigned contract lying around and is spurred to get going and join the dwarves.

Purists will dislike this sort of thing, of course, but it is always difficult to translate from one artistic medium to another, and achieve the same effect. I was mildly bothered by these discrepancies, but to be honest, they did not really take away from my enjoyment of the film.
One very nice change to the storyline is the appearance of the Orc-chieftain Azog, played by Manu Bennett. Azog is responsible for the death of Thror, grandfather to Thorin Oakenshield, and therefore serves as a nemesis for Thorin. Although the Azog character was not invented by Jackson, but known from the writings of Tolkien, he is never mentioned in the Hobbit novel, as he was supposed to have been killed before the events described in it occurred. Jackson cleverly circumvents this apparent inconsistency in the film by having Thorin believe, in accordance with the traditions of his people, that Azog had in fact died after the great battle outside the gates of Moria, which was the final battle in the great War between the Dwarves and the Orcs.

Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield
Richard Armitage shines as Thorin. From the first moment that I saw a still of him, I had had my misgivings. His nose was too straight and looked too human, and he just looked too pretty to be a dwarf. Or so I had thought.

On screen, however, he fits right in with all the other dwarves with their bulbous noses and funny eyes. Perhaps, as royalty, he is meant to look a little different, a little more attractive perhaps, and a little more regal.

The dwarves look much better on screen than they do in all those stills. Perhaps it is the Scottish twang that most of them have, which immediately reminds you of all those World of Warcraft dwarves standing around Dun Morogh and Loch Modan. Or perhaps it is just the contrast between their earthy, vulgar mannerisms and those of Bilbo Baggins, which seem so typically English.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins
But Martin Freeman's performance was, for me, the best. This was Bilbo Baggins. No doubt about it. I had thought that he might come across as an Arthur Dent with hairy feet, but no. He is excellent.

In a way, Freeman's performance does do away with one dissatisfaction that I have had with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was the portrayal of Frodo by Elijah Wood. Frodo had always come across as just a little too wimpy, a little too weak and soft. Watching those films, I had always thought to myself that Frodo should have been a little tougher, just a little more like the doughty country gentleman that I had imagined him to be when I had first read the book. But watching Freeman play Bilbo, it occurred to me that it is Bilbo, not Frodo, who is the doughty country gentleman.

Like most people, it was The Hobbit, which is a simpler book, that I read first. Years later, when I went on to read The Lord of the Rings, it had only seemed natural to visualise Frodo as being exactly like Bilbo when he was younger. They were, after all, similar in many ways - both hobbits, both well-heeled landowners (in contrast to Sam Gamgee, the gardener). They even had similar speech patterns, which is hardly surprising when you consider that children typically learn their native language from other family members, and grow up using the same figures of speech and expressions as their elders.

All this works very well if you are reading a book, of course, because you can change your mental image of a character at any point, without interrupting the flow of the story. But it does not work in a film. Frodo is not and cannot be Bilbo. It is Bilbo who is the tough and adventurous little country gentleman, who leaves his comfortable home and runs off to seek adventure.

Frodo, on the other hand, is neither tough nor adventurous. He has grown up hearing Bilbo's tales and has always longed to be like his uncle, but is actually not like him at all. When adventure does thrust itself on him, he wishes that it had not. Although he undertakes his task without question, he does so with reluctance. So the difference between Bilbo and Frodo, always implicit in the books, is finally made explicit on screen, and the two very different portrayals - Freeman's and Wood's - make perfect sense.

But the best thing about this film has to be Peter Jackson's amazing attention to detail. When there is a short take of Bilbo's front door in the evening, before cutting to the kitchen where he is making his supper, the scene does not just begin at the front door. Instead, there is first a wide shot of Hobbiton, showing a number of other hobbit holes with their lights on, before the camera swings across to Bag End. Lovely little touches like this give the viewer the sense of watching something that is happening in a real place with real inhabitants, a real world.

Gandalf speaks - but note the smoke coming out of the chimney of the hobbit-hole, and "hobbits" walking around

Similarly, when Gandalf speaks to Bilbo outside his front door, their conversation does not take place in a vacuum. In the distance, you can see other hobbits walking around and doing simple things. One hobbit hangs up her washing on a clothesline, one article after another, while Gandalf is speaking in the foreground.

A lesser director might have filmed this scene with just Gandalf and Bilbo. After all, their conversation is the focus of the scene, which only lasts for about a minute or two. Not Peter Jackson. He employs an extra to go out there in the distance and hang up laundry, just to give the scene that extra-realistic feel. In the end, it is this attention to detail that makes watching The Hobbit such an extraordinary experience.

So go and watch it. And do it now.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alcidas!
    I've found your blog before, but didn't read this post because I'd not seen still the movie!
    I appreciate this long and precise review!
    a "preciousss " one!
    Honesty, I don't like the movie, I've forgotten the Book before I watched it, but I don't like the style of a lot of parts of it (and if it was another movie, I will have the same advice!)
    Like you, I love Hobbiton perhaps because there's not too much "special-effects" !
    The actors are good: the casting is perfect!

    Thanks for this knowledgeable Review!