December 14, 2012 -- After a great deal of political and financial maneuvering, which resulted in some false starts (Guillermo del Toro of “Hellboy” was the director at first), lawsuits and other troubles, everything got straightened out and the Hobbit movie finally opened yesterday. Despite its bloated length and meandering plot, this is still an enjoyable production, at least for fans of Peter Jackson, Middle Earth and J.R.R. Tolkien.
In the greedy practice of the movie industry these days, New Line Cinema has taken the shortest book in the Middle Earth series (320 pages in paperback) and turned it into three movies which will probably have a total length of about nine hours, if not in the theatrical versions, surely that long if there are extended versions of the movies, as there were with the Lord of the Rings Trilogy of movies. The reason for this massive length? Money. Making two additional movies means tripling the money the studio makes. At least the studio did not do this series cheaply, like the “Twilight” or “Hunger Games” series. As they say in the movie business, they put the money on the screen in this film.
Fortunately, there is a lot of material to draw upon for this series, with the three Lord of the Rings Books, “The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again,” “The Silmarillon” and “Unfinished Tales” and all their appendices and related massive volumes of materials on Middle Earth produced by J.R.R. Tolkien. Still, this movie runs more than two and a half hours (169 minutes) which is nearly as long as the Lord of the Rings movies.
This film begins with background information on the myths of Middle Earth relating to this particular story. This is followed by a visit to Bag End, Hobbiton, Westfarthing, The Shire, in Middle Earth, on the same day and same year that the “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings” film begins, with some of the same characters played by the same people, Bilbo (Ian Holm, reprising his role) and Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood, reprising his role). Bilbo is busy at Bag End writing the account of his big adventure, which is what this movie is about.
Then the movie jumps back in time 60 years to the time when Bilbo's big adventure actually begins. This time, Bilbo is played by Martin Freeman of the “Sherlock” TV series. The wizard Gandalf the Gray (Ian McKellen reprising his role from the “Lord of the Rings” films) comes knocking on Bilbo's door at Bag End and soon Bilbo is up to his neck in Dwarves. A band of 13 Dwarves led by the Dwarf King Thorin Oakenshield (played by Richard Armitage of “Captain America: The First Avenger”) is using Bilbo's home as a meeting place to plan a quest to the far distant Lonely Mountain to take back the dwarf kingdom of Erebor (the kingdom under the mountain) from Smaug the dragon.
Since this movie is only the beginning of the tale, Bilbo and the company of dwarves is still far from the Lonely Mountain at the end of the film, but they are well on their way. There is plenty of swordplay and action, as well as the finding of the One Ring by Bilbo, a dangerous encounter with Gollum and battles with lots and lots of goblins, wargs, trolls and other fell creatures. There are also rock giants fighting each other and many other things going on during this road trip.
One of the more obscure characters in the film is the appearance of the third wizard in the film series, Radagast the Brown (played by Sylvester McCoy, former star of the “Doctor Who” TV series). He is slated to appear in all three of the Hobbit films, including “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” (2013) and “The Hobbit: There and Back Again” (2014). When the story switches from Bilbo to Radagast and back again, the transition is not smooth.
In this film Radagast plays the role of a dark prophet, foretelling the return of the dark lord Sauron, the Necromancer (played by Benedict Cumberbach of “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”). Neither Lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving, reprising his role) nor the White Wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee, reprising his role) believe Radagast's story of his encounter with the Necromancer and a ring wraith. They think Sauron is dead. They also don't believe the Ring Wraiths have risen. But Gandalf and Lady Galadriel (Cate Blanchett, reprising her role as the Elf Queen) both suspect that Sauron and the ring wraiths have risen again.
Since the Necromancer is slated to appear in the next two Hobbit films (the second one has already been shot, but not completed yet) it appears that these films will lay solid foundations for the Lord of the Rings stories that follow this series chronologically. Someday Middle Earth fanatics will run all six of these movies in all day and all night marathon sessions. The three Lord of the Rings extended version films alone ran over 12 hours at some theaters recently, leading up to the release of this film.
Even though this is a long film, it held my interest throughout. There is plenty of action and there are compelling story elements. Unfortunately, the characters didn't seem as interesting as the ones in the Lord of the Rings movies. Bilbo is a solid character, but other than Bilbo, the only other interesting character is Gollum, who once again is played by Andy Serkis in a marvelous motion-capture performance. Gollum is a richer, deeper character this time around. The motion capture technology, advanced by the filming of “Avatar,” is much better than it was in the Lord of the Rings movies. A facial camera captures the subtleties of Sirkis' facial expressions, which are then placed on Gollum's digitized face. In this film, Gollum is a delightfully passive-aggressive evil character who also generates some much-needed humor.
This is a long, over-serious adaptation of the book, but it does look great. If anything, Hobbiton and Bag End look even better than they did in Lord of the Rings. The sweeping grandeur of Middle Earth (New Zealand) is wonderful, and the basic story is strong. This film rates a C+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.