I gotta confess, I was skeptical. I liked the promo posters but I was hardly dying to see this and didn’t even bother to check out that many trailers. I knew I was going to see it – too much of a Tolkien fan not to – but I didn’t expect much since I was never really blown away by the LotR films. However…
I think what happened in the meantime was that I grew up, meaning that I was finally able to enjoy a screen adaptation of my beloved books without grumping and harrumphing over each alteration. Hell, by the time the party got away from the trolls I had to admit to myself that I didn’t really remember the book all that well, and so released from the shackles of snobbery I stopped worrying and learned to love The Hobbit. In fact, I’ll go and outright admit it – I liked this better than all the LotR films.
Here’s the thing. I was always in love with John Howe and Alan Lee’s illlustrations and enjoyed seeing them recreated on screen in The Lord of the Rings, but where a single watercolour or sketch can leave plenty to the viewer’s imagination, Jackson &co. couldn’t or wouldn’t allow us the same so the sets were detailed, rich, and boring. Art Nouveau for the Elves – really? That was even lazier than building the citadel of Minas Tirith on elements of the early Romanesque when Tolkien clearly stated he imagined it as monolithic as the architecture of ancient Egypt. The mines of Moria were the only set where I felt as enchanted as I used to be with fantasy & scifi landscapes of 80s and early 90s films, from Conan to Total Recall. It was consistent, it was appropriate with all the monumental angularity, and it rocked. And in The Hobbit they took what was good and ran with it.
That was the winning point of this film for me – we got to see the races of Middle Earth in detail, their cultures and mores and priorities. Where Gimli was played for laughs in The Lord of the Rings, offensively to any lover of the books, the Dwarves finally get proper treatment here, from the splendor of Erebor (the rise and fall of which is such a magnificent opening I’d go see the film again just for that) to the different clans’ looks, whether in beard-braiding or the design of their tools and armour. This was finally thought-through to the degree I’d expected from the earlier trilogy, and I was happy. Same for the Trolls, Orcs, and Hobbits – and speaking of which, Elijah Wood finally got good as Frodo in the small role he had. I never bought him completely as the Ring-Bearer but here, as Bilbo’s down-to-earth adoptee, running the old kook’s household and looking every part the tween he’s meant to be, he was a delight.
Sir Ian McKellen played Gandalf true to the book which might confuse the audience that only saw the earlier films, but I enjoyed it. Martin Freeman is Bilbo Baggins, the quintessential rural Englishman of Tolkien’s imagination. The rest of the returning cast seemed cosy and comfortable in their roles, which conveyed wonderully the complacent feel of the world before disaster strikes in the major books. And last but not in the slightest the least, Andy Serkis stole the whole damn show as the decrepit yet genuinely menacing Gollum.
Sure, there were things I was iffy about – the eagles ex machina made me roll my eyes but then Tolkien is just as guilty of overusing them so okay, fair enough. The constant, constant chases could’ve used a breather every now and then instead of spending all the slow scenes on Bag End and the semi-impromptu council of Elrond, and so on, but on the whole it’s really just bickering on my part since I thoroughly enjoyed this very long film and was honestly bummed when it ended. I want the rest, now!
Objectively: four out of five stars
Enjoyment: five out of five stars
Richard Armitage: five out of five panty changes, would phwoarr again