Okay, so I doubt very much I will actually split my review into three parts, though that would be hilarious. The titles would be An Unexpected Film, The Desolation of Changes, and There And Back Again: A Hobbit’s Full Circle.
Anyway, it is difficult for me to put into words how important and meaningful the original LOTR films are for me. They are untouchable classics, beyond the petty criticism of lesser films. If you don’t like them, keep it to yourself. Seriously. I am not responsible for my actions if you don’t.
Originally Del Toro was going to direct the Hobbit, and my response was, “OH, GOD, NO.” On account of Pan’s Labyrinth being so completely awful. (No, seriously, don’t tell me how good it was either. It wasn’t.) But Jackson’s decision to return to the helm was welcome news.
I had certain realistic expectations for the film that I think helped me going in. I knew they were incorporating the extensive information contained in the Appendicies into the film, so expecting to see Galadrial, Sauroman, and Radagast were reasonable assumptions. I expected Dol Guldur and the Necromancer to appear. These were all good ideas, and worked well in the film, save for the strange use put to Radagast, which I shall mention in a moment. But first, the pros and cons.
What I loved:
– I loved the prologue. Amazing and perfect. A very good decision.
– I loved the intro with Ian Helms and a surprise reprisal by Elijah Wood.
– Everything in Bag End with the Dwarves was great, even the songs, which I was most on the fence about.
– Martin Freeman and Ian McKellen were the real highlights.
– The “Riddles in the Dark” scene was perfect.
Things I Didn’t Like:
– Biggest pet-peeve in the world about this film was the incomprehensible decision to include the strange mountain fist-fight. Wha? As in, wha? Why? It’s not in the book, and it’s not an addition that improves the film in any way. It was sheer indulgence in special effects by Peter Jackson, and that was intensely frustrating. My response wasn’t, “Ooooh, that was awesome,” it was, “GET ON WITH IT!”
– So, I expected Radagast to turn up at some point. I wish he hadn’t been quite so goofy. And the jackrabbit chase was too comical for me. Tolkien gave almost no information about Radagast, though technically the film sticks very close to what is known of him. He indeed lived in Mirkwood near Dol Guldur, friend of birds and beasts. The Encyclopedia of Arda notes that “he settled at Rhosgobel, near the southern borders of Mirkwood, in a location close enough to Dol Guldur to suggest that it may have played a part in the attack on that fortress by the White Council in III 2941. At some point later in history he abandoned this homestead.” You can see how the film is filling in some of this information, and I would anticipate we will see him again, probably in the third film, when the Necromancer is driven out.
– The Pale Orc. I actually enjoyed the inclusion of the pale orc in the story. That was fine. I feel they would have been better to have not made him entirely CGI, however, as he was one of the fakest-looking creatures in the film. It is my suspicion that the Pale Orc’s character was somewhat of a later addition to the story. The behind-the-scenes information will have to bear this out, or not.
– For all of it’s length, I felt the focus was entirely on Bilbo and Gandalf. Not that I’m complaining, but it would have been nice to get to know the dwarves a bit more. Half of them didn’t even get any dialogue. Perhaps this will be expanded in later films and possible extended, director’s cut versions.
– General self-indulgence by Peter Jackson. One of the noticeable things about the original LOTR films was their restraint about wild special effects. For all of CGI in the originals, they were always serving a purpose other than themselves. In a lot of places in The Hobbit, Jackson’s decisions were baffling. There was no real need for a warg chase on the way to Rivendell, nor the mountain fighting on their way into the Goblin Kingdom below the Misty Mountains. Some of these felt like thin excuses for the fantasy version of a car chase. Other times with various choices, Jackson seems determined to make the Hobbit as BIG as possible, every opportunity for battle-scenes taken without thought to how this plays into the pacing of the thing. I lost count of the number of times the characters plunged down huge mountainsides in falls that would have killed even the hardiest dwarf, only to have them emerge entirely unscathed. This took me out of the film after the second time it happened.
Beyond these general nit-picks, it was really a marvelous picture. I enjoyed it almost entirely.