Ah… the Hobbit, my first foray as a grade-schooler into fantasy literature. I already knew the story a bit from the 70s movie (it came out in 1980 but is squarely in the 70’s for style) and some lord of the rings movie books that I had lying around, but reading the book as a little kid was both a challenge and a huge pleasure that lead to COUNTLESS (mostly lesser) sci-fi and fantasy novels to follow. It turns out that my dad was a closet Sci-fi freak and had boxes and boxes of paper backs like the Killer Thing and a lot of Ray Bradbury along with some Pel Toro. He was the one that turned me onto Tolkien in the first place and this path, started in the late 70’s led directly into D&D and basically the entire wonderful world of gaming (at that time on the fringe).
Before seeing the movie, I saw one of my co-workers walking out of the nerd store. She was buying a present for her cousin and would probably be the least likely individual to be coming out of the nerd store that I could imagine (looking quite like one of the forever21 models posted across the atrium). This present was a Hobbit card game of some sort and yet she had never seen the film nor read the book and this is where I think Peter Jackson had to make some hard choices about the Hobbit.
Stretching this rather short book into three films was shocking at first and remains shocking for a viewer that is familiar with the original book and 70’s film. I found a few small bits of the new Hobbit tediously long but this was made up by the fact that there were parts barely mentioned in the book that are getting the FULL treatment in the movie– and these are EXCELLENT parts of the story. Radaghast the Brown finding that Sauron has returned to Dol Gudor, the actual showing of the attack on Lonely Mountain by Smaug and the Orcs on Moria were all very well done and fun to see.
To my astonishment, the beginning of the Hobbit is actually the beginning of the Lord of the Rings (in the book) where Bilbo has a going away party and then disappears to Rivendell. So this sets up these films as a solid pre-quel to the LoTR stuff because the entire movie is one big series of flashbacks or stories the characters are telling to other stories.
Things that were great
Gollum. Fucking amazing. While the entire scene was different from how I pictured it in the book the tension level was fantastic. They nailed Gollum down beyond all expectations. The way the ring was lost by Gollum was also very well done.
The Goblin King. While this entire sequence was Lucasified (see below), the Goblin king himself looked badass with his flesh beard and carbuncular skin. I was just very sad that he didn’t say the line: “Who are these miserable persons?” that I loved so well from the book. It must have been tough for Jackson to work through the Goblins actually not immediately killing the dwarves because, lets face it, in the other films they just attack and attack and attack all the time.
The Dol Godur back story. We know from reading the Hobbit that Gandalf goes off from time to time to do stuff– once for a VERY long time. The stuff he is doing is not important for the Hobbit story (other than the fact that he’s gone) but was vastly important when framed as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings. He has to investigate and defeat either the return of Sauron in some form or the newly reformed Witch King of Angmar. This is going to be super badass.
Things that weren’t so good
The escape from the goblin king – this was a ridiculous CGI sequence not unlike the newer star wars films. It puts the dwarves and gandalf at such odds and surviving so many near escapes from destruction fighting the goblins that the viewer can only conclude that they are completely immortal and free from harm. You just become numb to all the craziness on screen. Plus man, it’s tough to beat this:
Thorin almost getting killed- again, taking a quick scene from the book and expanding it to a really long scene is OK, as long as the resolution is somewhat consistent with the original intent. I understand that this scene was showing Thorin vs the ‘big bad guy’ and is the climax of the film, but why did we have to think he was dead? Why mess with the audience that already knows he will live?
The reason for this ‘almost death’ of one of the main characters, as I see it, is the type of viewer like my co-worker noted above that had never see the old movie, nor read the books. It’s that viewer that some of this stuff is targeting, not US nerds. For the climax, Thorin’s almost death adds drama and excitement and for most people this was likely needed. While the book is exciting, it’s not HOLLYWOOD exciting and to bring in the kids, all of the Lucasified scenes may have been necessary. Unfortunately those were the parts I loathed, both in the Hobbit and the Return of the King (where the mouthwash clean out of Minis Tirith by the ghosts was the worst offender).
It’s an Action film
It’s shocking for those of us that grew up with some very very different views on how the characters looked and how the ahem.. ACTION sequences went down that it is a bit shocking to see on screen. We know Gimli and Aragorn are badasses– but you never got the impression that the dwarves from the hobbit were really that great at fighting anything. They mostly got captured and run down only to be saved by Gandalf or Bilbo in the end time and time again.
Don’t let those things shake you out of seeing it though, the Hobbit rocked.