Somewhere in the 1930s an Oxford professor was grading essays and suddenly a thought struck him and he wrote on the back of a student’s essay book, “Once in a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” The Oxford professor was JRR Tolkien and this is his own accountant of how he began to write the legendary story that was turned into a movie that opens this week.
In this review I will not provide any spoilers as there are many surprises in the motion picture, but I am not sure that is a good thing.
Many novels get tinkered with before they are turned into movies. In his now legendary treatment of The Lord of The Rings, Peter Jackson tinkered with care and love and in my opinion great respect for the material. The way that project was handled was done with integrity and great beauty. I cannot say this about The Hobbit.
I went to the Tuesday evening press premiere really wanting to like what I would see. I have liked Jackson’s films in the past. I even liked his King Kong which so many had issues with. But I left the theater Tuesday night disappointed. This was a movie and it was OK but is was not great!
The Hobbit is essentially a children’s book. It’s subtitle “There and Back Again.” Does much to describe how simple the story is and how straightforward a tale. Jackson has managed to over complicate, over character populate and overwhelm the story in too many ways.
There are characters from The Lord of the Rings that never appear in the Hobbit, Galadriel is there for no reason. Radagast the Brown who has a one sentence mention in the Hobbit is given a large supporting role in the movie. And The Necromancer, a quickly mentioned character in Tolkien’s work has become important in the film. None of this was relevant to the story and was gratuitous at best. I had the feeling Jackson was simply trying to stretch a single movie into three.
There are new characters as well. One that is important is a one armed Orc who wants revenge on Thorin. Never in the book this character just complicates the story and draws it out. Some of the best parts of the book are changed drastically and again for no reason I could see. There could be one explanation, a children’s story was trying to become an adult movie.
As for the cinematography, I was also disappointed. Caves deep in the earth looked clean and new and reminded me of Tom Sawyer Island in Disney World. In fact at times it looked like someone had polished all the rocks. In general the filming itself reminded me of the type of style the BBC used in the 1980s when they brought The Pickwick papers and Great Expectation to life. It was too bright and too clean.
As for the acting, I think Ian McKellen and Martin Freeman did an incredible job as Gandalf and Bilbo Baggins. Freeman was a Hobbit that makes a choice to join an adventure in which he has to earn respect and self-confidence, all of which he pulls off with great dignity. Even when knocked down Bilbo stands again and you grow to love this interpretation. Ian McKellen was born to play Gandalf and he does as superb a job in this film as he did in The Lord of The Rings. The rest of the cast did admirably as well, even if their characters were not needed.
In wrapping up I can say this. If you haven’t read The Hobbit and want an evening at the movies, I think you will find this film very good, even at it’s almost three hour length. If you are a real Tolkien fan you may have trouble with the license taken with the story and be disappointed. To be honest when I want to see a film version of The Hobbit I would go back to the one done in the late 1970s by Rankin Bass. I honestly think they did a better job.