Like many people, I fell in love with “The Hobbit” when I was a child. I was ten years old, to be exact. I’ve always loved adventure stories, and this one has stuck with me. Also like many people, the only adaptation I had was the 1977 Rankin/Bass cartoon that was made for television. Without going into too much detail about that, let’s just say that it was a sub-par offering. I always longed for a quality film adaptation of one of my favorite stories.
Sir Peter Jackson has delivered. And if you are a fan of The Hobbit, you will love this movie.
( Warning: some spoilers ahead... )
"In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…"
Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo. He encompasses the character in every way, particularly in the way he moves and reacts. When the dwarves invade his home, you not only see his panic and frustration, but you feel it. He wants to be aggressive, but that’s just not his way. I found myself fighting back the urge to berate him, out loud, for not asserting himself. I kept thinking, “If that was me, I would be cursing at them and shoving them out the door.” But I had to remind myself that it’s not me who must react. It’s Bilbo. I truly felt like I was an unseen presence at Bag End, and not just a passive member of a movie audience. Martin Freeman made the character so real, I found myself smiling joyfully one minute and teary eyed the next, depending on what was happening. One scene in particular really got to me. Near the end of the film, after the dwarves have escaped the Goblin tunnels and Bilbo has almost caught up to them, he overhears Thorin chastising him – saying that he never should have come on the journey, that all he wants is to be at home, etc. I felt so sorry for poor Bilbo. But then, there was a sudden change in the character that Martin Freeman conveys so beautifully. He won’t be turning back from this journey. He will prove himself, which he bravely declares to the company of dwarves. Gandalf had said, “You will not be the same,” and this is the moment of change. It’s the beginning of Bilbo’s transformation from reluctant burglar to true hero, and the performance is brilliant.
“The leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield…”
I’ve been a long-time fan of Richard Armitage, as most people know. My discovery of him was a bit of an accident, as I was researching something else at the time and I kept hearing his name in various forums and online chats. Once I learned what all the fuss was about, I became a loyal fan, and not just because of his good looks or his delightful personality. It was his ability to vanish into a role that captured me, and as Thorin Oakenshield, he has outdone himself.
There is a lighthearted nature to this story, which is conveyed by the merriment of the dwarves when they first arrive at bag end, and by Bilbo’s attempt to avoid being drawn into the quest. Twelve of the dwarves arrive before their leader does, and along with Gandalf, they are a bit like children taking advantage of being on their own. But when there is a distinct knock on the door, the entire mood dims. Thorin has arrived, and he brings with him a much needed sense of order and authority. This is not a game they’re all set to embark on. They’re out to reclaim their homeland, and Thorin reminds them of it more than once. Regal and brooding, Thorin is truly an heir to the throne of Durin, and Richard gives a magnificent performance. His face is so expressive, and a scene I found myself tearing up at was between Thorin and Balin (Ken Stott) at Bag End. Having heard Bilbo’s refusal to sign the contract, Balin thinks they should forget the quest altogether. Thorin, he says, has created a peaceful life for the dwarves in exile, and they should leave the past behind. But with the key to the mountain in hand, Thorin is determined to avenge the destruction of their kingdom. Watching Richard Armitage in this scene, you can see several emotions going on in his face. There is great despair – you can honestly see there are tears in his eyes – but also fear and self-doubt. It isn’t just about reclaiming what was lost. The quest is a way for him to prove to himself that he is not a failure - that he is a worthy leader and heir. Bravo, Richard. This is your best performance yet.
“What is a Baggins, precious?”
This has been said before, but I’ll say it again. Andy Serkis deserves an Oscar. His portrayal of the tormented Gollum was outstanding, and his scene in the cave with Bilbo was easily the best part of the movie. Much like Gollum/Smegal, I kept shifting back and forth in my mind-set during this scene. One minute, Gollum was creeping me out. The next, my heart was breaking for him, especially when he discovered his ring was missing. I was saying to Bilbo, out loud, “You better run for it. NOW!” But once Bilbo had slipped the ring on his finger, making himself invisible, I felt terrible for Gollum as he searched in vain for the “Theif” who stole his treasure. The motion capture is so astonishing, it feels like a real creature creeping about, threatning to kill Bilbo one minute and then gleefully engaging in a game of riddles the next. Mr. Serkis, you are a genius.
If I had any complaints at all about this movie, they are very minor. I found myself a bit restless during the scenes with Radagast The Brown, but that was probably because I had become so involved with Bilbo and the company of dwarves. As for the 48 frames per second debate, I thought it gave the movie a stunning clarity and I don’t see how critics can say it looks like a soap opera set or an old BBC adaptation, or however they want to describe it. My only quibble was adding 3D on top of the 48 FPS. It was a bit much for my mind to take in, and by the end I had a slight headache. I plan on seeing this movie again, but next time, I think I’ll skip the 3D.
There was some fuss that most of the dwarves were just "window dressing" for the scenes. But it's hard to flesh out every single character in one movie, especially when you have so many. I can see a few of the dwarves - Aidan Turner, in particular - developing more as the story continues. I thought he and Dean O'Gorman, as Kili and Fili, were lovely in their respective roles, and I'm looking forward to seeing more of them. I also developed a fondness for James Nessbit as Bombur. In a small scene with Bilbo, they discuss how - unlike Bilbo - the dwarves have no home to return to. In this moment, you can see that it's not all fun and games for the company. The dwarves long for home as much as Bilbo longs to return to Bag End. It's a touching scene, brief though it may be.
The movie was over before I knew it, and I’m already anxious for the next installment. Too bad I have to wait a whole year, but I’m sure it will be worth it.