The Hobbit: The Mostly Spoiler-Free Review

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The entire time I was watching the Hobbit, I thought, “If the Star Wars Prequels had been done like this, there would have been a lot less complaining.”
This is not to say that The Hobbit is as good as Lord of the Rings – it isn’t, merely because despite Peter Jackson’s attempts to infuse The Hobbit with LotR’s gravitas, it’s a smaller and fluffier tale.  But it knows how to get fanservice right.  There’s so many delightful moments in this for those who loved the movies that it feels like going back home again.  And maybe it’s a little long, and a little silly at times, but there’s pleasure in revisiting that comfy, comfy hobbit-hole.
Beyond that, I’m too tired to string together bits into an essay, so let’s just bullet-point.
Martin Freeman is wonderful as Bilbo, mainly because he refuses to be shackled by Ian Holm’s performance.  Martin Freeman’s Bilbo is the quintessence of befuddled, polite Brit – trying to be nice, yearning for something greater, but not quite honest enough to tell people how he’s really feeling unless he’s backed against the wall.  It’s a delightful performance, filled with great body language and perfect comedic timing….
…but that would all be for naught if Martin’s Bilbo didn’t have a heroic side to him, too.  We know, because the movies tell us he will, that Bilbo stayed his hand for Gollum out of pity.  We know, because of narrative need to show Bilbo’s character development, that this must be A Moment in the movie.  And when the time comes for Bilbo to put on his Big Damn Hero pants, it’s all the more effective because no, he isn’t a hero, he’s a small man determined to do right.
The Dwarves were largely a mass of indeterminate beards, but I plucked a few personalities out of the bunch: Thorin, this movie’s Aragorn, the old smart infodump dwarf, the stupid young one, the two fighting ones.  This isn’t really a detraction, though, as the dwarves are supposed to be a chaos, and so they are.  Much is made in the film of people counting them to ensure they haven’t missed one, and that’s a nice subtle cue to the reader that no, we don’t really know them all either.
The movie zipped along quite nicely.  I was expecting ass-creep, got very little.  People who complain about the pacing may have a point, but I suspect for them there’s no joy in seeing all the tiny parallels and fleshing-outs of LotR’s world.  I kept going, “Oh!  Now I know where that came from!” As I said: fan-service.
Peter Jackson has a sense of spectacle.  This film is gorgeous eye-candy, and that also speeds things along.
Hey, remember when Legolas stabbed an orc with one arrow, then shot another orc with the same arrow, and that was badass?  And then Legolas did the flippy-thing on the horse in Two Towers, and that was badass?  And then Peter Jackson went batshit crazy and had Legolas take down an Oliphaunt in a movie that should have been badass, but instead defied physics to the point where instead of shouting in triumph, you instead suppressed a Flintstone-like urge to yell “YABBA DABBA DOO!”?  Well, sadly, a large portion of the last third of the film consists of a CGI spectacle where physics fail to matter, like the elephany battle squared, and you have a bunch of dwarves jumping and fighting in ways that would clearly not work in the real world, and as such it feels more like a videogame than anything you actually care about.  It’s exciting, but there’s zero tension because, like Indiana Jones, you’re excruciatingly aware that these are guys fighting imaginary constructs on videogame platforms.  And that’s a very sad loss, because this should be a great battle sequence and instead it’s just more eye candy.
The Gollum scene is delightful, as is Gollum.  My love for Andy Serkis swellss.  Unfortunately, the other CGI creations that get full-sequence aren’t nearly as compelling; in particular, a legendary Orc badass looks very plasticine in closeups, with waxy scars, and I kept going, “Uh, yeah, that’s fake.”
The soundtrack is wonderfully interlaced; the Dwarf mourning song feels very organically placed into the film, and the way the movie interlaces threads of old LotR themes with new ones is quite delightful; little tidbits of hobbitness whenever Bilbo’s feeling homesick, snippets of The Ring theme showing up here and there until, like the Aston Martin in Skyfall, the arrival of the One Ring lets it blaze forth…. It’s delightfully done.
Given how quickly X show up when Y requests their presence, do not tell me how the X couldn’t have dispatched the ring right quick in LotR if they’d wanted to.  These guys are delivery service.
The additions to the film are, as I feared, more Jackson than Tolkien.  There’s a lot of sequences where we get to see Big Spectacle and maybe don’t need to, but Jackson wanted an exciting chase sequence here, and so he sifted through the Silmarillion until he found a sentence somewhere that justified it.  And there’s a big ol’ meeting where people stand around and go, “SAURON’S DEFEATED, WE TOTALLY DON’T NEED TO WORRY ABOUT HIM,” and Gandalf is like, “No, hey, Sauron is totes coming three films from now,” and they’re all like, “Well, let’s discuss this some more.”  Which is not entirely successful at grafting the events of The Hobbit to Lord of the Rings, mainly because it’s a very long and talky scene, but on the other hand it’s kind of like watching the remaining members of Nirvana reunite in that yeah, maybe it’s not that great but you’re just happy to see ’em all standing around again.
Is that Doctor Who as Radagast the Brown?  Holy fuck, I’m glad the man still has a career!  Go you.


  1. Ben
    Dec 14, 2012

    We know, because the movies tell us he will, that Bilbo stayed his hand for Gollum out of pity

    well, it was in the books too, but I understand a lot of people haven’t read those, and now think of PJ’s work as cannon.

  2. Grevola
    Dec 16, 2012

    Out of pure curiosity- did you read the Hobbit before seeing the film, or was this your introduction to young Bilbo?

    • TheFerrett
      Dec 17, 2012

      I had read the book many, many years ago. My memory is thin.

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