When I read in the newspapers that Peter Jackson intended to turn The Hobbit into a three-movie extravaganza (eight hours of film), I wasn’t too pleased. Tolkien’s novel isn’t thick enough to support that many movie minutes, I thought. Well, the jury is still out on that issue, but I have seen the first movie in the trilogy and I am content.
Beware, the following review contains plenty of spoilers.
However, the film is not The Hobbit as Tolkien wrote it, but rather a “Lord of the Rings”-ified version of it. Peter Jackson has worked diligently to make the new movie into a conceptual prequel of his LotR-movies from ten years ago: the same actors, the same esthetics, etc. The general mood is, however, somewhat lighter, though the many cases of silliness and the ironic witticisms of Tolkien’s text are absent.
The actors playing Bilbo (Mr Middle-Class going on misadventures) and Thorin Oakenshield (an arrogant and vengeful Norseman) are splendid. These two chaps catch my attention whenever they appear on screen. The other actors range from okay to good. (However, a few of the Dwarves made me think of the Swedish comedy ensemble Galenskaparna and that is not an association I want to get in a Tolkien movie.)
The movie’s apex is the encounter between Bilbo and Gollum. Peter Jackson provides a good explanation how the One Ring found Bilbo (yes, it has a malevolent will of its own) and the angst-ridden riddle game is gripping. This is the only part of the film that touched my heart.
Peter Jackson has also put in a lot of the back-story found in the LotR Appendices, for instance the meeting of the White Council at Elrond’s home. OK, here the director had to fudge some details about Dol Guldur, the Witch-king and Radagast, but that was probably required for the sake of good dramaturgy. He shows elegantly how Saruman is busy obfuscating the major developments for his own gain and how Galadriel maneuvers smoothly around everyone else (she is obviously the most powerful person west of Mordor and she knows it).
The insertion of the Azog subplot is also a case of Peter Jackson taking significant liberties with the source material, but I don’t mind, because it adds a Norse Saga touch to the proceedings: hate, revenge, foolhardy courage, honor before reason; after all, Tolkien moved in the same cultural landscape as the Icelandic skalds.
I am disappointed only about two sequences — and that’s mainly because they disrupt the movie’s Tolkienian mood for me. The first one is the stone giants’ fight (too much Transformers) and the second one is the Dwarves’ kinetic escape from the goblin realm (too much Indiana Jones).
The movie is 165 minutes long and I was never bored. That is an unusual experience nowadays and that proves Mr Jackson’s craftsmanship. I guess that the second movie will deal with the Dwarves crossing the Mirkwood and the third one with the fiery showdown at Laketown and Erebor. Considering what I have seen so far, I think I have little reason to worry about their “watchability”.
My verdict: The Hobbit (Part One) gets 4½ gold rings out of 5.