Here it is, boys and girls. Outside of Broadway fans and Tarantino aficionados, The Hobbit is pretty much the last greatly anticipated movie of the year. After years of back and forth over production, directors, and cast, it’s all finally come together and while it may be a while before we see the whole product, we at least get a decent chunk to whet our appetites. The question is, has all the eager anticipation paid off, or are we faced with perhaps the biggest disappointment in the history of movie adaptations?
I’m sure there’s no need for a summary here, but for any Philistines in the audience, The Hobbit is essentially a predecessor if not outright prequel to The Lord of the Rings, and if you’re not familiar with Lord of the Rings, may God have mercy on your soul. But just to humor everyone at the operational level, The Hobbit is about a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins who is recruited by a wizard, Gandalf the Grey, to assist a party of dwarves in reclaiming their mountain home from Smaug, a fearsome dragon. It’s all based on the book by J.R.R. Tolkien, the man who quite literally wrote the book, or more appropriately books, on the fantasy genre as we know it.
Like every movie adaptation, The Hobbit has a great deal of interest invested in it. Personally, this might be my most anticipated movie adaptation to date. The Hobbit was a favorite of mine when I was a young buck. I remember getting all jazzed up when I first heard it was in the works, the moistening in my trousers when I heard Guillermo Del Toro was directing, the less intense moistening when I heard Peter Jackson was back at the helm, seeing the first poster at the Dark Knight Rises premiere, and my enthusiasm over hearing they were splitting the book into several films. And of course, it has received a marketing campaign suitable for a film of its status. So needless to say, I expected quite a lot out of it. And did The Hobbit rise to those expectations? It did.
We don’t get straight into the story, a wise choice considering it’s been a while since movie-goers have been to Middle-Earth. The movie starts of with Fellowship era Bilbo sitting to write all about his alluded-to adventures from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. From here, The Hobbit plays out in roughly the same order it does in the book. Now, let’s talk about the technical aspects of the film. For those that have seen Lord of the Rings, everything is as you would expect it to be. For those that haven’t, the cinematography is about as pure as one might see anywhere else. I especially appreciate the use of colors, and how they effectively establish mood from scene to scene. Jackson goes for old school special effects when feasible, and uses pretty good CGI when it’s not, which I am a big fan of. Make-up and costumes are genius, and New Zealand might as well get its name changed to Middle-Earth, it certainly has the best claim to it. For gracefully aging characters, the original actors have returned (Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian McKellan, etc.) and the new characters are all aptly cast, as far as I’m concerned. Considering we have one book being split into three movies (allegedly), the pacing is pretty good, and there’s hardly any fat that could’ve been trimmed without cheapening the movie, despite what The Onion would have us believe.
One thing that should be understood about The Hobbit is that it is a different animal from the Lord of the Rings movies. While Lord of the Rings divides our attention between the War of the Ring and the quest to destroy it, The Hobbit is an adventure through and through. Not much politics, intrigue, massive battles (not in this one, at any rate, no proper ones at least), or back and forth, just the adventurers and the quest itself. As far as adherence to source material goes, The Hobbit is actually middle of the road, but not in the way you might think. It has been a minute since I’ve read The Hobbit, so it may be I’m remembering things wrong. That being said, The Hobbit has been given the due time to leave nothing left out, but it has certainly taken a decent amount of creative liberties, at least when it comes to adding material. But aside from the fact that most of these liberties are entertaining and faithful in spirit, it is hard to criticize because of how faithfully the most memorable parts of the book have been portrayed. From the moment Bilbo Baggins leaves the comfort of his hobbit-hole, it’s hard to not get caught up in the sheer fun and adventure of it all. Therein lies the magic of Jackson’s Middle-Earth. There is so much care and energy put into his movies that one is hard-pressed to not get caught up in it all by way of proxy, let alone story and characters. In the same way that Lord of the Rings set the standard for fantasy books, so the movies have set the standard for fantasy film.
For those new to the Tolkien universe, The Hobbit is inspired fantasy, with plenty of elves, dwarves, and dragons and such to appease fantasy fans and capture the imagination of those new to the genre. For long time Tolkien enthusiasts, The Hobbit satisfies mightily. While purists might prefer some of The Hobbit’s deviations to be cut in favor of sticking to the source material, the grand majority of fans will enjoy everything the film has to offer. And while the two hour and forty-six minute run-time might be a bit daunting, it may very well be the the most fun you’ll have sitting in a theater for close to three hours.