In all of the nearly 10 years I have been writing movie reviews, I think I can honestly say that I have never been more conflicted as what to think when it comes to Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth in the “The Hobbit.”
Never has a film left me longing for what it could have been, instead of what it is so badly. I’ve always been a fan of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and though they all had their own problems, I have always felt as if they are some of the strongest fantasy films of all time.
Unfortunately, that return to Jackson’s world was not as magical as I had anticipated, and as much as it pains me to say, “The Hobbit” is not nearly the film that I was expecting it to be.
The film, which is a prequel to “The Lord of the Rings” films, is bogged down by its slow pacing and lack of restraint on Jackson’s part and as a whole, it left me both excited to see the second of the three planned films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel and upset that Jackson was stretching the novel into three films.
While Jackson’s previous three trips to Middle-Earth have all exceeded 120 minutes in running time, pacing for the most part flows well. While it takes quite a long time for the adventure to get out of the Shire in “Fellowship of the Ring,” everything that happens in that time feels very deliberate and all three of the films in the first trilogy have plenty of extra footage added to the extended cut. When it comes to “The Hobbit,” it felt as if Jackson left nothing for the special features and put every single moment filmed on screen.
The film’s first hour consists dwarves feasting and convening at the home of Bilbo Baggins (played by Martin Freeman), a typical, adventure-shy Hobbit. Bilbo, who has no idea why the dwarves are showing up at his house uninvited and raiding his pantry, is later informed by the great wizard Gandalf (once again played by Ian McKellen) that he has been chosen to go along with them on an adventure. Of course, he accepts and goes with them, however the whole ordeal is shown in real time and takes about 40-45 minutes to move on from Bilbo’s home to the adventure itself. Sure, some of the film’s enjoyable moments (i.e. the dwarves singing their hauntingly beautiful marching song) come from this, but there is also plenty that could have been trimmed to shorten the film’s running time.
The film’s slow start unfortunately carries through for most of it, and it seems as if right when the film is picking up momentum, it is wrapped up and the door for part two is opened. The film’s final 40 minutes are nothing short of spectacular, reminding audiences why they fell in love with Jackson, however, it takes patience to sit through the rest of the film to see the payoff.
The slow pacing also takes away any sense of character development or growth and audiences are left with the feeling that the characters are in the same emotional and mental state that they were in at the beginning of the film. Despite the fighting, it feels as if nothing has changed because the film moves so slowly.
Another distracting and unnecessary part of the film better left for the special features are some character cameos and appearances featuring characters from “Lord of the Rings.” Amongst these are a scene featuring Elijah Wood as Frodo Baggins in a scene that sets up the movie, and another featuring Cate Blanchett as elven queen Galadriel, and Christopher Lee as evil wizard Saruman giving Gandalf advice. Both scenes feel forced into the final cut and while it is certainly nice to see familiar faces, it is a bit distracting in the context of the film.
One other aspect of the film that was just a sheer let down was Jackson’s choice to make all of the Orcs and Goblins computer generated. In his previous three Tolkien adaptations, the creatures were portrayed by actors in costumes and make-up and in being so, made audiences feel like they were in the middle of the battles with the characters. This time around, I felt as if Jackson, one of the last Hollywood believers in practical effects, betrayed his audiences.
All of this aside, the film certainly has many enjoyable aspects as well.
The action in the film is dazzling, and there are times when I found my jaw dropped as to how beautiful it was. The climactic battle is one of the best fight sequences I have seen all year and another sequence just before it featuring two rock giants fighting each other is one of the most impressive special-effect sequences I have seen in a very long time.
I give it 3 stars out of 5.