I’m about a month late, but I did see the Hobbit at a midnight release. Then I saw it two more times that week. I like the Hobbit. A lot. It is basically everything I want to see in an adventure movie. Director Peter Jackson did change some things to bring it more in line with his Lord of the Rings movies, but they stayed true to the heart of the book and deftly portrayed all the memorable characters and scenes from the first half of the book. The Hobbit surpasses even its predecessors in transporting viewers to another world.
One part where the movie definitely shines is in the acting. The returning players: Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and especially Ian McKellan, all do a great job of stepping back into their roles. For the most part they aren’t given a lot to do, Gandalf excepted of course, but they effectively tie the movie to the LotR movies. Which makes the opening scene with young Frodo and old Bilbo almost completely useless. That is the biggest flaw in an already slightly too long movie, an unnecessary ten minute scene at the start. All things considered, that is a pretty slight flaw. Another actor that shines is Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. He has the perfect mix of bemused facial expressions and nervous jumpiness. But underneath his unassuming exterior he shows the adaptable quick thinking that proves his worth to the rest of the group. The dwarves that make up that group kind of blend together, which is exactly how it is in the book. They all play their roles well, as ill-defined as most of them are.
The biggest change to the narrative is the addition of Azog, the white orc to play the villain for this first third of the trilogy. Once the decision was made to split the movie, it would have become obvious that the first part was short a villain. By making the orc a greater presence, it makes for a stronger film than the episodic book would have. One thing kept perfectly was the near incompetence of most of those dwarves. In the book they ran from one capture to another and they do the same here. Sure, Thorin, Kili, Fili and Dwalin are made more competent warriors, but most of the fights amount to a mad scramble for survival. Plus, they kept the songs this time.
The early parts are great but the movie really shines in the final act. From the point the dwarves are captured by the goblins the movie is nearly perfect. The Goblin King is grotesque and hilarious, and the fight to escape is a roller coaster of amazing set pieces. While on their own they are powerless, with Gandalf to lead the way they manage their escape. Then there is Bilbo, lost in the caverns. His riddle game with Gollum is one of the best scenes in a movie this year. Though he became something of a joke in LotR, Gollum is terrifying here. He seems just a step away from killing Bilbo at any time. His funny conversations with himself have a more sinister edge here. It is riveting.
The Hobbit is not a perfect adaptation, nor is it a perfect movie but it is nearly as good example of both as can be found. The movie manages keep most of the majesty of the Lord of the Rings with keeping the Hobbit’s more jocular tone. There are some flaws in this delicate balance, with bloodless scenes of goblin and troll fighting weighed against some unnecessary beheadings. Still, the Hobbit is definitely a must see movie and I eagerly await the next one.