Very mixed on this. I loved Peter Jackson’s adaptations of the Lord of the Rings, especially the first film, but I was rather worried when I heard he was making The Hobbit into three big films. How can he be doing that with such a slight book? I thought. Won’t it turn out a bit . . . bloated?
And, yes, it did.
To be fair, for a three hour film it never really got boring, I wasn’t squirming in my seat or anything, but, man, it really did feel padded out beyond recognition, with barely a sequence or conversation left intact and offhand allusions in the book converted into weighty additions. An interminable pre-title with the elder Bilbo, a ponderous exchange between Gandalf, Saruman and Galadriel, an utterly unnecessary aside with Radagast. I felt like I must be watching the extended edition, where every scene goes on just that bit longer than it needs to. Sometimes a lot longer. Sometimes even longer than that. I thought they cut and sculpted the Lord of the Rings books very well for the original films but, you know, it’s one thing – surely a tricky, skilled and difficult thing but one thing all the same – to cut down a wealth of source material and maintain the feel. It’s entirely another to add great wodges of your own stuff to quite slight material. The dialogue in those new sections clunked, the voice-over creaked, and for me it ended up just not feeling very much like the Hobbit at all.
What it did feel like was a less original and interesting prequel film to the Lord of the Rings series. There was a whole lot of rather self-important repetition of things from the trilogy – the same sort of sweeping angles over a similar fellowship threading up a snowy ridge with the same sort of music playing, Gandalf giving Bilbo the same sort of dewy eyed bitter-sweet smile he gave Frodo in the same sort of situation, spindly collapsing bridges beneath the Misty Mountains were a lot like the ones in Moria, Gandalf sent a moth for help from his burning pine just like he did when he was trapped on Orthanc. I could go on. There was a sense of having seen it done before with a bit more conviction, and everywhere there seemed to be a ponderous weight of linking everything back to the Lord of the Rings that wasn’t really necessary. Plus a strange desire to turn Thorin into a kind of cut-height Aragorn, all handsome, windswept and heroic that I found slightly . . . odd.
Perhaps it was just me, or the years have rolled by and what once looked good does no longer, but the film also felt a bit less artful in its visuals than the Lord of the Rings were. Too much reliance on heavy CGI this time around, with a couple of the villains not looking all that convincing for my money. In Fellowship of the Ring the Uruk Hai were very well made up and armoured real guys, and that gave the fight scenes a weight and punch and reality that was very much lacking here. The action was a bit cartoonish, a bit uninvolving. There was a cheesier sense to the whole thing.
Now, lest I am accused of giving this a panning let me say there was a lot to admire. Martin Freeman made a very good Bilbo, I thought. Gollum was brilliant and the scene of their Riddles in the Dark definitely the highlight. Overall it kicked along after a languorous beginning, had some strong set pieces and a lot of the virtues of scale, look and stunning design that made the Lord of the Rings films such a success. It was a decent way to spend an evening. Certainly I’ll be watching the next instalment.
But, for me, it felt far more like the prequel the Lord of the Rings didn’t particularly need than The Hobbit.