I remember when I first saw The Fellowship of the Ring, 11 years ago. I loved the movie. I loved The Two Towers even more and though I'm not a big fan of The Return of the King it still had many unforgettable and moving moments. The Hobbit, which will be inevitably compared to The Lord of the Rings, really suffers when that comparison is made. There are so many problems with it I hardly know where to begin. It doesn't help that I didn't read the book and yet I still didn't love the movie - what I mean is that I was completely new to this story, yet many times I was really bored.
The film follows Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who we know from The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit takes place before the events of Jackson's trilogy - back when Sauron was only rising to the power and the ring was still in Gollum's possession. Bilbo is drafted by Gandalf into the quest - to take back the city of dwarves - Eraborn, which was taken by the feared dragon Smaug. The company features thirteen dwarves led by their king Thorin (Richard Armitage). During the journey they encounter many dangers - orcs, trolls, stone giants and Necromancer - apparently another form of Sauron (forgive me, I'm not exactly Middle-earth expert).
After I saw The Fellowship of the Ring I knew the names of everyone in the fellowship. I knew who they were, I knew some things about them and they were all memorable. The biggest issue I had about The Hobbit was that apart from Thorin, all those dwarves are essentially one collective character. I'm sure that in the second movie they will be given more chances to distinguish themselves, but here Jackson really screwed up. There was this big scene, that kept going on and on, when we first meet the dwarves as they dine in Bilbo's house. But after the scene was over I was still pretty confused as to who the hell those guys are.
Ironically The Hobbit is the strongest when it focuses on the characters talking and just interacting with each other. I really loved all the moments when the characters tell stories from their past, when they get to know each other and in the effect, we, the audience, have a chance to get to know them too. My favorite parts of the movie were the scenes between Thorin and Bilbo - Richard Armitage and Martin Freeman did the hell of a job here and their last scene together in the movie moved me even more than any of Aragorn/Frodo scenes. It's a shame the film didn't have more moments like this one.
We get to see some of our old friends in the film - Elrond, played by Hugo Weaving is even more likable here than he was in The Lord of the Rings, ethereally beautiful Cate Blanchett shows up as Galadriel and her and Gandalf have a scene where although they are only talking I felt some chemistry going on. What was that all about? Christopher Lee must have forgiven Jackson for cutting his scenes from the final installment of Lord of the Rings trilogy, because he makes an appearance too. And we get to see Elijah Wood and Iam Holm. And of course - the trilogy's most memorable performance.
I'm not talking about Ian McKellen's Gandalf, who is still excellent here as every one's favorite wizard. I'm talking about Andy Serkis's Gollum. Since there was some significant progress in CGI since the last The Lord of the Rings movie, Gollum looks even better in this one. Him and Bilbo share fantastic riddle moment and then we get to see the moment that started it all - Bilbo discovering the Ring of power. That whole sequence was really when the movie finally started going for me, too bad it was 2 hours in at that point.
We get to see some of the scenes mentioned in The Lord of the Rings trilogy here - one that really stuck with me - and I'd probably choose it as the best moment in the film - was when we see Bilbo take pity over Gollum and not killing him. That scene really moved me - Bilbo is wearing the ring so he is invisible and he has a blade at Gollum's neck. He sees Gollum, his big eyes and suddenly there are tears on Gollum's face. His sad, tragic face. I don't think I was ever this moved by Gollum's tragic fate before - just as to Bilbo it occurred to me that this wasn't always a monster, that once he was just like other kind, sweet creatures. Gollum's tears had more impact on me than all the stupid actions scenes in the movie combined.
Don't get me wrong - the CGI is very impressive and the creatures in the movie really feel realistic. The problem is that I was neither as invested in the characters as I was during The Lord of the Rings nor the things trying to kill them were scary. At all. When I saw the iconic scene when the hobbits are hiding in the roots of the tree in The Fellowship of the Ring I nearly shat myself from fear - Nazguls were really frightening. Here we have talking (!) orcs, trolls and some crap that looked like orcs chasing the company through the whole thing. The only menacing creature was the Necromancer but we only see a little of him. Smaug was amazing too, but I'll get to that later.
It's really not a good sign when your favorite character in the movie is the CGI hedgehog named Sebastian. Well that is what happened - I didn't feel fear for any of the characters but that cute little thing and I was so happy when he was saved. Sebastian and his hedgehog friends were included when we saw the cabin where Radagast the wizard lives. I read few articles stating that he is like Jar Jar Bings of The Lord of the Rings universe. I disagree - I actually really liked his character. He brought a lot of humour here and he was fun to watch. The dude is also one with the nature - he even let's birds sit under his hat and he constantly has bird shit on his face (that actually happens, I am not kidding.). I love nature too, maybe not to that point, though. Give me few more years in spinsterhood and we shall see.
Yes, The Hobbit is definitely lighter and sillier in tone than The Lord of the Rings. There is some singing, goofing around and even some slap stick. I wouldn't be against that had any of that was funny. Unfortunately other than for few clever lines and one elk involving incident where the elven king, Thranduil, abandons dwarves without a word with so much superiority in his eyes I couldn't help but laugh nothing really amused me here. And I'm pretty sure the filmmakers didn't want me to laugh during the elk thing. There really aren't that many scenes where you feel the importance and the danger of the journey here. Hell, when Gandalf died I bet you all cried. Here, apart from last few moments, nobody is in danger for too long.
I felt the film was missing a love story. I really loved the romance between Aragorn and Arwen and it's a damn shame that there was none of that in this movie. Hell, if it wasn't for Galadriel there would be no women in this movie. I read that Evangeline Lily's elf character Tauriel (who doesn't appear in the book and was created because apparently even Jackson felt the lack of chicks is just weird) will be a love interest for one of the dwarves in next part. Well, at least that's something.
There is one thing other than Gollum here that I enjoyed more than in previous trilogy - the prologue. The one in The Lord of the Rings was great but this one was just so sweeping - we get to see the destruction of Eraborn. What I really loved is that we don't really see Smaug, the dragon bringing havoc and destruction - we never get a clear shot of him. He is always moving, there is so much fire, smoke and ruins around him that you can't clearly see him. That was very clever of Jackson to do. The ending and the tittle of the next one suggest we will get to see that fearsome creature - and a lot of it - in the next part. Unfortunately, he will talk too. Fortunately, he will talk in Benedict Cumberbatch's voice.
The cinematography is lovely, though nowhere near as lovely as in The Lord of the Rings. It just lacks pure beauty of it, even in Rivendell scenes. The mix of orange and dark blue looks really horrid at times and it hurt my eyes, almost as much as the awful palette in Avatar. Fortunately, there are some breathtaking moments that amazed me - like the eagles carrying the company over the hills. Howard Shore brought his A game with the score again and the music is very beautiful, which helped transport us to the magical Middle-earth. I saw the film in 2D without the higher frame rate so I can't comment on that. I can barely get through 3D and HFR would probably kill me.
Though I enjoyed many parts of the film, The Hobbit was ultimately a mess. I'm glad I saw it though, since I heard about what will happen in next films and I really want to see them. I wouldn't want to step into trilogy without knowing the beginning. That said, I think the decision to cut the movie into 3 parts was a big mistake - The Hobbit would be much better without all the scenes where the characters are captured by forgettable, ugly, talking things. It was boring and really redundant. Hopefully with Smaug being the main villain in next part that won't be an issue anymore.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, 169 min)
Plot: A younger and more reluctant Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, sets out on a "unexpected journey" to the Lonely Mountain with a spirited group of Dwarves to reclaim a their stolen mountain home from a dragon named Smaug.
Fran Walsh (screenplay), Philippa Boyens (screenplay), J.R.R Tolkien (based on a novel by)
Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and Richard Armitage