Time to plunge the spear into my white whale.
The Lord of the Rings movies are some of the most beloved book-to-film adaptations of all time. Fellowship of the Ring, Two Towers, and Return of the King are all still touted as some of the best movies of all time. For good reason; most everything about them still works and has aged remarkably well. To this day, they’re some of the most thrilling and engaging fantasy films ever.
Naturally, Warner Bros. wanted to capitilize on the franchise further. Eventually, they would have to make more with Tolkien’s work. And luckily for them, there was another book for them to milk!
And milk it they did. Much to my dismay.
Bilbo Baggins is a normal, unremarkable hobbit living in the Shire. One day, the wizard Gandalf brings a troupe of dwarves to the little fellow’s door. Their quest: to return to their lost home, the Lonely Mountain, and steal back their treasure from the dragon Smaug. And they want poor little Bilbo to be their burglar! Now, the unremarkable Mr. Baggins must go off on a thrilling, dangerous adventure that will change his life forever.
Before I break down how this movie failed to adapt my favorite book of all time, let’s talk about the things I liked. Because of the three Hobbit movies, this one is the best. By which I mean it’s the least offensive as an adaptation.
Firstly, the casting is amazing. Ian McKellen is as amazing as Gandalf as he was before. Martin Freeman does a decent job as a young Bilbo; he doesn’t quite capture the awkwardness or cowardice of the character, but his performance is charismatic and enjoyable enough to make up for it. Andy Serkis returns as Gollum, and of course he is amazing. Richard Armitage is actually a near perfect casting for Thorin; he perfectly captures the royal air of the character while still presenting him as a dick, albeit a polite one.
It also does a decent job adapting a few scenes from the original book. The troll scene is pretty good, and Bilbo and Gollum’s riddle duel feels ripped almost straight out of the book. This movie does have some highlights; it isn’t all bad.
Visually, the movie… hasn’t aged great. The cinematography is great, but the special effects haven’t withstood the test of time. Honestly, the only one that still holds up is Gollum, and I’d say that he still doesn’t look as good as the Lord of the Rings movies.
That seems like a good point to start complaining on.
This movie seems really determined to remind you that this is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings. And not in a clever or subtle way. Why do we have to spend time with old man Bilbo writing his book before the party? Why is Frodo in this movie at all? To remind audiences that this is connected to the old movies they really like. Nostalgia is good, right?
It also adds a ton of material in an attempt to lengthen the movie in order to squeeze out three of these. The party gets chased by an army of vengeful orcs that Thorin mentioned in one or two passing lines of dialogue. Gandalf’s side-quest with the Necromancer is given center stage. Radagast is in this movie for some reason. It makes the story feel unfocused and messy as it tries to juggle all of these completely unnecessary plots.
Why do they do this? Partly to pad out the trilogy. But partly because they’re trying to make this an epic fantasy on par with the Lord of the Rings. Problem with that: the Hobbit isn’t an epic. It’s a simple, short, goofy adventure. It isn’t an epic. It’s not even a prequel to the Lord of the Rings!
I wish I could say any of these issues would be addressed in the next two movies. Unfortunately, they only get worse.
My biggest problem of all is Bilbo himself. In just one scene, the writers prove that they failed to understand his character. Him choosing to run off on an adventure ends his character arc before it even begins. What’s the point of the story now? What does Bilbo have to learn?
Still, this first Hobbit movie isn’t horrible. It’s not a great adaptation of the source material, nor is it that meaningful as a prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies. At the very least, it is somewhat entertaining, and the actors are doing a good job with the material given to them.
I could basically copy and paste this whole review for all three movies. But you know what? I’m going to try a little harder than that.
I hate because I care, okay?