Like many other fans, the fact that Peter Jackson decided to do a three-film Hobbit trilogy elicited an epic eyeroll and shrug of the shoulders. But after finally seeing the first Hobbit movie…wow. An absolute wow.
Now, if you have huge, grand expectations, of course you will be disappointed–that’s how that works in life. But regardless of your level of hardcore fandom and love for middle earth this is a spectacularly entertaining and visually stunning film that lives up to The Lord of the Rings saga..and maybe even sets a higher bar.
Even though it’s been many years since the release of Return of the King, the film automatically sends you right back into Middle Earth as if you never left. The epic scope of the film and the incredible cinematography, from the rolling hills of the Shire to the underground kingdom of the dwarves, snow peaked mountains to the lair of the goblins and the sparkly beauty of the elvish kingdom…the sheer epic scale of Middle Earth and its beauty (mostly thanks to New Zealand) is overwhelming. Paired with the meticulous detail of each set, such as the books and dishes in Bilbo’s home to the gorgeous costuming, to the equally epic braiding of each dwarf’s hair, makes this film very richly textured and an absolute feast for the eyes. The music also adds to the Middle Earth atmosphere–the flutes of the Shire, the trumpets and drums during orc battles, and the strings when the company meets the elves. Again, nothing feels forced, and the return of several key LoTR characters (including some surprising cameos at the beginning) makes the prequel feel all the more natural.
I know the film was shot in some sort of super duper high definition (as you can see, the jargon escapes me), and while at times it was absolutely striking in the detail–from the specks of dirt on Bilbo’s face, to Smeagol’s expressions while guessing the riddles–it was not “too realistic” or any of those sorts of complaints that came up before the film’s release.
If you’ve read the book, about 70% of the film will be familiar; of course, there are certain elements that are heightened and condensed to make it a more entertaining film, plus Jackson is adding in all sorts of things from JRR Tolkein’s cliffnotes in order to have enough content for each film. Perhaps my favorite addition that wasn’t in the book was Ratagast the Brown, the slightly wacky nature wizard who rides a sleigh led by giant rabbits. (Yes, he’s like Santa Claus, but better. My last-minute gift request is a porcupine named Sebastian.) That being said, the additions feel so natural that one who hasn’t read the book wouldn’t know the difference (aside from maybe the giant rock men battle); there are even sections taken exactly from the book, such as Gandalf’s “good morning” and the riddles. The three hours are filled to the brim not only covering the story itself but also totally swallowing us in Middle Earth–also, you’ll be surprised at how many times you’ll laugh.
If you’re a Sherlock fan like me, it might take you about a half hour to accept the fact that Dr John Watson (aka Martin Freeman) is, in fact, a hobbit–but he pulls off the role so convincingly, seemingly with very little effort (which means that, in fact, it took so much), you will be thoroughly convinced that he is three and a half feet tall with hairy feet. The film for its three hours does a wonderful job showing Bilbo’s gradual development as a comfortable, solitary stay-at-home hobbit to a valuable member of the company, and most deserving of his adventure. Richard Armitage did an admirable job filling the shoes of Thorin Oakenshield, Gandalf showed more of his mischevious side as Gandalf, and Andy Serkis was at his devious best as Smeagol. Even with a company of 13 almost all of the dwarves have their own character moments; the film certainly does justice for a race that constantly gets the, ahem, short end of the stick when it comes to fantasy troupes.
That being said, and not to go all feminist here, but this is most certainly a male centric film. Aside from some female dwarves and hobbits at the beginning, and then some nice lady elves playing flutes and serving delicious elvish snacks (hmmm)…the only woman who had a speaking role in the film was Galadriel, and that’s at least halfway through the film. Granted, this is part of the original story–there’s no Galadriel, and therefore no women, in the book. And Galadriel, played by the stunning Cate Blanchett, is not only a sight to behold on screen, but has all sorts of nifty elf powers like telepathy and disappearing into thin air, Batman style. From what I’ve heard, a female elf will be joining the company in the second film, but the fact that this is such a male-dominated film is still a problem. Even though Galadriel is great, she doesn’t have any real impact on the story, nor is she a warrior–and if anything, this is a story about war.
The almost-three hour investment in the film absolutely flies by. Like the other Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is impossible to not be swept away by how gorgeously this film is crafted visually. That and an engaging, entertaining and epic storyline, you have for yourself a great film. It might not win any Oscars but Tolkein fans can rest assured that the Hobbit trilogy is off to a fantastic start.
other stray thoughts (and/or snarky comments):
- Smaug was done brilliantly. Never showing the dragon completely made him all the more ominous and leaves some surprise for the next two films (not to mention his Benedict Cumberbatch voice. Do dragons wear hats? Can he be wearing an ear hat, please?) It sets him up as the “final boss battle” while there were plenty of other villains to take care of in this film.
- That being said the ‘pale Orc’ was a bit of a bland villain, he did a lot of ordering and grunting and epic Dragonball Z stare-downing. But then again, considering how he solved his missing-a-left-hand problem, he’s obviously a Tim Burton fan and seen Edward Scissorhands one too many times.
- Even though there were essentially no women in the film that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any romance. Remember the epic Transformers-made-of-rock battle and Kili and Fili are separated? The look of absolute LONGING?? Oh yes. There’s something there. Just don’t tell tumblr.
- The 3D was nice, particularly the scenes with the ring, but I’m not sure I would say it’s a must-watch in 3D. Because 3D tends to be a bit darker than 2D I wouldn’t be surprised if the image is even sharper and more beautiful without stuff popping out at you.
- Anyone else think one of the trolls sounded EXACTLY like Pinky from Pinky and the Brain? Narf!
- Saruman (played by Christopher Lee, aka Count Dooku) absolutely took some notes out of Emperor Palpatine’s book, How to be a villain in secret when the entire audience knows you’re bad.
- Also, the giant eagles land the dwarves & co on Pride Rock. Exactly Pride Rock.