Here we go. I’ve read Tolkien’s classic fable three times. I’ve now seen Jackson’s premier adaptation three times. After letting my thoughts mix around in this old head of mine for about four and a half months, I think I’m finally ready to give my review… And it isn’t a particularly favourable one. Allow me to present to you my elaborate and cunning list of reasons why the Hobbit is good, but not as good as it should have been.
The biblical, poke-your-eyes-out length backstory: For some strange reason, Jackson believes his audience is incapable of inferring anything from context. He feels the need to give us not one, but two ten-minute long prologues. The first of them, while going some way towards satisfying Jackson’s insatiable need for CGI, is completely unnecessary and could essentially be summed up in two lines. We are about fifteen minutes into the film before an elderly Bilbo utters the iconic first words of the novel: ‘In the hole in the ground, there lived a Hobbit.’ What’s wrong with starting there?
The pace: The Hobbit, a relatively slim children’s tale at 310 pages, has been stretched beyond belief. For some reason, Jackson has deemed it necessary to draw out the film into a LOTR-length trilogy, when one single film would have covered it. A two-parter at most. For that reason, everything seems, as Bilbo puts it in The Fellowship of the Ring: ‘Like butter scraped over too much bread.’ The lengthy chase scenes, the slow, repetitive dialogue; it all seems to have no other function than to stretch out the film.
The invention of Azog: I couldn’t have been the only Tolkien fan in the theatre who was utterly confused when this ‘Pale Orc’ began gnashing and wailing and giving out about ‘Dwarf scum’ on the screen. I mean, who is he? I’ve never even heard of him. But yes, as he always does, Jackson gave him a nice lengthy prologue and we were all satisfied with this one-dimensional villain. Right? Wrong. The Lurtz of this film does little more than curse and scream, adding no drama or feeling to the film. His presence is merely incorporated to facilitate more ‘action and incident’ into the movie.
Radagast the unnecessary: Radagast the Brown is the guardian of Mirkwood Forest, mentioned in passing in the Lord of the Rings books and in Tolkien’s Collected Tales. Where he fits into the Hobbit is beyond me. He seems to have just been added to give yet more backstory to this Necromancer, who we all know is Sauron. I could have done without Radagast in this film. His scenes were awkward and clunky and his sleigh was pulled by bunnies. That is all.
Jackson’s desire to relive past glory: Our director seems more interested in re-creating his hugely successful Lord of the Rings franchise rather than creating a new and original film. He uses similar sequences, like Gandalf calling eagles with a moth (something that never once happened in any Tolkien book). There are also similarities between those rocks crashing down on Thorin and Company in the admittedly-cool stone giant fight sequence, and the Fellowship being buried under snow by Saruman when they try to take the Mountain Pass. Everything from Richard Armitage’s feeble impersonation of Aragorn, to the White Council meeting at Rivendell bears evidence to Jackson’s unwillingness to let the Hobbit stand on its own two feet.
This is a major pity because when the film is good, it’s very good:
The game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum is a masterful sequence. The shimmery water, the performances, the riddles. For me, it was the standout point of the film and pre-emptively, the trilogy (although the Battle of the Five Armies should be good). Serkis and Freeman completely embody their roles, and the scene suffers none of the pacing issues of the rest of the film. It manages to be funny, thought-provoking and a little bit scary all at once, which is surely a hallmark of great cinema. The familiar New Zealand scenery was also as breath-taking as ever. The score, though understated was as majestic as its predecessor. While I’m not sure if the whizz-kid high frame rate technology actually enhanced my viewing experience or not, there’s no denying Jackson’s eye for a great visual image.
Richard Armitage as the grumpy Thorin Oakenshield…