The first part of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy (yes, trilogy) takes a gigantic budget, a very simple story and adds set piece after set piece, often forgetting where it’s actually going. It certainly has its moments – moments on a par with anything you’ve seen before – but even the most die hard fanatics of Jackson’s Middle Earth must realise that compared to The Lord of the Rings, for the most part it dwarves in comparison.
The film opens by exploring its dwarving mythology in epic fashion, explaining how their homeland was taken many years ago, before we arrive back down to (middle) earth with the familiar sight of Bilbo (Ian Holm) writing down his memoirs for for his nephew, Frodo (Elijah Wood), all taking place shortly before the opening events of Fellowship. Despite Wood and co being a good ten years older, makeup and effects are reassuringly brilliant, with Frodo looking as boyish as ever. We then flashback to the story of the younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman), who is unexpectedly recruited by Gandalf (Ian McKellen) as the missing member of the dwarving mission to reclaim their rightful homeland. Without warning or explanation, thirteen dwarves overwhelm Bag End, one after the other, rummaging Bilbo’s house leaving the hobbit clueless, which puts our adventure into motion.
Now despite the running time clocking in at a little under three hours, we never really get to know these dwarves. Not only are there so many of them, but their quest and desires are initially dealt with through the epic-scale prologue and we rarely get to really understand them, nor is focus well placed on a few individual members of our band but they all get lost in the shuffle. Far too much time is spent cramming in protracted action sequence upon protracted action sequence, without enough time spent on explaining why we should be cheering for these little fellows. Freeman makes for an extremely amiable Bilbo but while we of course know he’s not going to die, the film doesn’t do a good enough job of drumming up the stakes for the bumbling dwarf
ensemble. The film recognises its audience already loves its universe so it neglects to sufficiently make us care for its characters in danger. However, for all the film’s bagginess and lack of focus, the effects are naturally super and while 48 frames per second really does take a while for your eyes to physically adjust, once they did I was really impressed by just how the extra frames make everything look so incredible and really gorgeous.
Predictably, it’s far too long with too many sequences adding little to the story. A fair amount of time is also spent checking in on our favourite characters from the LOTR trilogy without adding much new to them. Even Gandalf just feels like ‘same old Gandalf’ rather than making any attempt to take an even slightly new look at the man behind the beard. Fortunately, the final hour does enough to make up for some of the uncontrolled storyboarding which comes before, thanks to a perfectly executed (and this time deservedly drawn out) scene between Bilbo and an old, precious friend, intersected with a genuinely epic battle continuing above which makes much of the patience which has come before seem worth it. It’s absolutely wonderful and Andy Serkis is as brilliant as expected.
In many ways, the first part to the saga is an uncontrolled, visually stunning let down but at least it improves as it goes on. With a couple more, presumably lengthy installments to follow, there’s enough reasons to believe Jackson can most certainly get this journey back on track.
Review by David Rank
The Hobbit is out now in the UK and US. Certificate 12A (UK). Running time 169 mins.
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