Stars: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, Barry Humphries and Andy Serkis.
Writers: Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Guillermo del Toro; based on the novel by JRR Tolkien.
Director: Peter Jackson.
It is not enough to merely gawk at the spectacle that is The Hobbit and bleat, “Job well done, Mr Jackson!” Afforded the budget of his dreams to revisit the billion-dollar Rings franchise, Peter Jackson should provide effects work that is nothing short of perfect; that is very least the fans have a right to expect. The much-discussed 48 frames-per-second camera technique offers a ridiculously crisp image, at times beautiful but certainly robbing The Hobbit of any real-world grounding. Ultimately, it is just another geeky tool, the kind that ‘techy’ directors like Jackson and James Cameron love to utilise just because they can. The Hobbit didn’t need it, but the look of the film is not the biggest problem with the New Zealand director’s return to The Shire.
What needs to be addressed is just how ploddingly boring The Hobbit is.
Clocking in at an astonishingly indulgent 170 minutes, Jackson bulks up Tolkien’s lean story with invented, convoluted scenes of no consequence whatsoever. Already much-discussed is the film's first 25 minutes, in which the band of warrior dwarves converge upon the home of our reluctant hero, Bilbo Baggins (an ok Martin Freeman), at the behest of the wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Much singing and eating and general dwarfish shenanigans ensue, all of which frustrates Baggins and, increasingly, the audience. There is no dramatic momentum created, no character emerges as particularly compelling. The tone of the film is set in this opening sequence – very often, a lot will seem to be going on in The Hobbit, but nothing ever really happens.
The dwarves, with Baggins in tow and Gandalf riding shotgun, set off to reclaim their rightful home, the Kingdom of Erebor, which has been seized by the dragon Smaug. They are chased by Orcs, take a time-consuming sidetrack to visit Rivendell (a passage not in the book that only serves to work LoTR favourites Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Christopher Lee into the new trilogy) and encounter the horrid visage that is Gollum (Andy Serkis, of course, riddling-off against Bilbo in the film’s best sequence).
As was the case with The Lord of The Rings trilogy, there is a great deal of walking, running and climbing in The Hobbit. The dwarf army travels an interminable distance, encountering horse stealing trolls (a terribly written sequence that plays like a bad Monty Python sketch); duelling giant rock monsters (affording a glimpse at the darker vision that Gullermo del Toro may have employed); and, the underground lair of the Goblin King (Barry Humphries) and his minions (which the dwarves must flee, traversing an elaborate maze of ladders and bridges that start to resemble a game of Donkey Kong). The peril is evident, but there is not a whisp of tension in any of these adventures. Knowing The Hobbit is merely the beginning point for a new trilogy, there is no threat to any of the lead characters and, even after 2 ½ hours, we don’t get to know any of the support dwarves enough to care in they live or die.
Given the source material is so beloved and the last three films were bathed in Oscar and commercial glory, The Hobbit carries with it inherited cache. And Jackson knows that all too well; there is a lazy smugness at work here, a mood that has deadened the director’s instincts. For thousands, the Lord of The Rings trilogy was an emotion-filled spectacle; The Hobbit, by comparison, is all pixels and no pulse. The Lord of The Rings was heroic cinema bolstered by new technology, a new generation’s Lawrence of Arabia or Braveheart; The Hobbit is only new technology. The trilogy it most resembles is not the past Tolkien adaptations, but the bloated, plotless Transformer films.