I just saw The Hobbit a couple of nights ago, and my first thought upon leaving the theatre was…what was wrong with that?
I’ve heard mostly bad things about this new installment, and I’m not entirely sure why. Criticisms range from slow pacing to tonal incongruence with the Lord of the Rings trilogy to Radagast the Brown (he’s already getting Jar-Jar Binks comparisons). I suppose I’d agree with the pacing argument, but only at the end of the film. Otherwise, I’d say that it was excellent. Not as great as the original trilogy, of course, but still pretty damn good in its own right.
Firstly, the effects were astounding. I know special effects don’t make a movie but…wow. They were just jaw dropping. No, literally. When the new and improved Gollum came on screen, my jaw actually dropped. I used to say that Avatar was the pinnacle of CGI. No longer. Right from the opening prologue scene, I was blown away.
I thought the film had a typically good script from the trio of Jackson, Phillipa Boyens, and Fran Walsh. Guillermo Del Toro even got a credit, which was nice to see. They did a good job weaving in some of the threads from The Silmarilion, and also expanding on other scenes. Some cameos by Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, and Christopher Lee were nice additions as well.
Another thing I liked were the homages to the original trilogy, both in the script and visually. For example, the shot where Frodo slips in the Prancing Pony and the ring falls onto his finger is copied exactly in The Hobbit, only this time with Bilbo instead of Frodo. Also, Azog comments on the dwarves smelling of fear. A similar remark is made by the orc Gothmog in Return of the King. A lot of franchises reference themselves, Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, but I found this to be a much more subtle and much more enjoyable way to do it.
Martin Freeman and Ian McKellan certainly stood out as Bilbo and Gandalf, respectively. Freeman brought the same energy to the role that Ian Holm had, plus an extra ounce of neurotic humor for good measure. And of course, Ian McKellan just was Gandalf. Great performances there.
As I alluded to at the beginning, the end of the film really dragged for me. Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen it, there was a lengthy, exciting action sequence that seemed like the logical climax and ending of this first installment. But in the words of Gandalf and Thorin, the party comes “out of the frying pan and into the fire,” immediately engaging in another skirmish. Faithful to the book, yes, but on film I thought it became anti-climactic. And not only that, there were still about fifteen minutes left at that point. Could’ve been much more exciting if they’d just ended it a tad sooner.
Overall, I thought that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was too harshly judged by critics and audiences alike. Sure, there were some problems with the tempo, but nothing so heinous that the film was ruined.