Copyright © 2012 by Warner Bros. Pictures
An adaptation of the novel with the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien, the first part of ‘The Hobbit’ recounts the adventures of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) which takes place 60 years prior to the events in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Bilbo is lured by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to join him and 13 dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on an adventure to regain their home, the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). It is during this time, a looming evil from Dol Guldur is shrouding Middle-Earth in terror. The journey ahead to the mountain is also where the hobbit will encounter Gollum (Andy Serkis) and the One Ring.
A little more than a decade later, we are treated to the adventures of Bilbo who unwittingly stumbles upon the One Ring that will lead into the cataclysmic proceedings in ‘Rings’. Having never read the book (it is relatively light compared to the more complicated endeavour Frodo and company have to endure), the moment news broke out about Peter Jackson, director of the lavish trilogy to which it has garnered a cumulative total of 30 Oscar nominations planning on returning to Middle-Earth, anticipation rocketed sky high for his next project.
It really is a time to rejoice with the subsequent announcements on the creative force Jackson has assembled to work with again, including the original stars from his earlier gamble and Guillermo del Toro’s hiring as director. A visionary in his own right, del Toro’s sensibility would have been in tandem with Jackson’s direction, as seen through his sleeper hits, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and the ‘Hellboy’ series. Blame it on monetary issues faced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the delay to begin filming eventually cause him his directorial stint (an expected replacement came in the form of Jackson himself to pick up the pieces).
For an undemanding story, the decision to split it into two is at first glance seem highly driven monetarily (what with MGM’s predicament, it is most sound and logical), but in the hands of Jackson, we are made to understand he will be incorporating many elements from ‘Rings’ to weave a cohesive take between this double feature and its ‘sequels’. Seeing Elijah Wood (Frodo Baggins) and Cate Blanchett’s (Galadriel) characters naturally integrated into Bilbo’s unexpected journey is welcoming. But when two stretches to a third adaptation, one can only hope Jackson’s enthusiasm does not overwhelm the newly proclaimed trilogy.
Sadly, the finished cut is just not as magical as when ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ first blew us all away in sheer grandeur. It is quite a wonder as well for this 169 minute movie that tackles only a third of events in an already lean book can warrant for another 13 minutes of extra footage (about half an hour of reel can actually be left in the cutting room). Many of the early scenes involving Thorin and his dwarf followers could have been reduced (their first meeting with Bilbo at his home does not necessarily need to break out in song).
While it is fun to learn of their merry way of life despite losing their residency in the Lonely Mountain to Smaug, it would have been more helpful to the audience if more back story is devoted to Thorin’s warriors instead. As of now, other than the leader in the group, none of his musically-sounding clique is worth remembering. Or as Aragorn once put it simply, it could just be the beard that becomes undistinguishable from one to another. In another instance where less is more, Jackson should have just got on with it and brought about the appearance of Gandalf outwitting the trolls who captured the company as their source of food.
A somewhat juvenile attempt to get the young ones chuckling, the scene drags into momentary slapstick but it is at least redeemed by Bilbo’s intelligence before Gandalf’s grand emergence. The movie does pick itself up after that, thankfully. It is a shame that Radagast the Brown’s (Sylvester McCoy) role is pretty supporting for I would have loved to know more about this nature-loving wizard. It is worth mentioning his ruse to lure the Orcs away from pursuing their targets is original and thrilling.
If only the rest of the action can follow suit and be just as rousing. The finale is a little too drawn-out and feels repetitive. It is in the quieter and dramatic turns which elevate part one to a slightly atypical affair. McKellen is in his useful playful mode, an approach he honed since ‘Fellowship’ and Serkis relishes every bit of his cameo during his riddle-swapping challenge with Bilbo whose humanity is captured with total honesty by Freeman.
As for the king adamant on reclaiming his land, Armitage is both steely and wary of his newest member in the group. He is doubtful of the hobbit’s allegiance to the mission but when he is proven wrong, Thorin’s response is sincere but never sentimental. And that is where the problem with the rest of the film lies. Jackson’s sentimentality from his earlier franchise is unquestionably seeping into this new one and it is diminishing the audiences’ goodwill built for its continuity. It is fine to be more inline with ‘Rings’ tonally, but when it leads to overindulgence, self control should always prevail, no matter how great the temptations are.
Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images