Date Posted: 2012-12-15
Tolkien Fan Level: 7
Film Format Seen? 2D 24 fps
Will view again in a different format? No
It was phenomenal stepping back into Middle Earth under Peter Jackson's guidance. The movie was a three-hour cinematic extravaganza.
The prologue was exceptional. Ian Holm's voiceover provides the absolute perfect narration for the story of the Lonely Mountain and how the Dwarves lost this greatest of their ancestral kingdoms. My only complaint was that we didn't see more of Smaug: I understand completely that he's being saved for the second film, but several parts felt like a little too much effort was going into hiding him from the audience. But the shots of Thorin and Balin were especially effective, as they help establish the two as peers among the Company. Where the other Dwarves see this as an exciting, danger-packed adventure, only Thorin and Balin appear to actually appreciate the full weight of their undertaking. As the perfect addition to the prologue, we see an understated and even casual appearance by Elijah Wood's Frodo--I don't know if we should give credit to digital effects, makeup wizardry, or simple genetic lottery, but Wood doesn't seem to have aged a day in the eleven years between films. The setting is instantly and concretely established: we are back in Jackson's Hobbiton, and it quickly feels as though we never really left. Martin Freeman is an absolute joy as Bilbo; his comedic timing couples with a very powerful sincerity that frankly I had not been expecting--he immediately is Bilbo, all the silly, uncertain, and endearing qualities of the character shine though across the entire film. Sir Ian McKellen barely needs mentioning after his astounding performance in the LotR Trilogy, but one thing must be said: McKellen has repeatedly remarked that he much prefers Gandalf the Grey over Gandalf the White, and this film underlines that distinction perfectly. Gandalf here is once again the heartwarming, grouchy old codger that fans fell in love with in the Fellowship. That brings us to Richard Armitage as the legendary Thorin Oakenshield. Armitage delivers a simply masterful performance, and Peter Jackson starts us off perfectly by introducing us to Thorin separately from the other Dwarves. In Armitage we truly see King Thorin the Second, but a king in exile...and it eats at his heart with every passing moment. So what worked...and what didn't? The Unexpected Party itself was phenomenal...but I admit I was mildly annoyed with Bilbo's sudden decision to up and run after the Dwarves. It lent the character a strength that maybe he needed, but it looks to run against the character we established the night before. It comes down to a sudden, impulsive decision, and that doesn't quite work with Bilbo for me. Still, the moment is quickly over and we're swept along to Balin's account of the Battle of Azanulbizar: a stunningly effective piece, though for my part I had a fleeting wish for the battle to be more structured and less of a backdrop. But the main point of the flashback is to put Thorin's character into perspective: Thorin Oakenshield is very much an epic hero, stepping up to take his place among the ranks of Achilles or Odysseus--I would even argue that Thorin Oakenshield is the only such epic hero to appear in person within the narrative of The Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings. Knowing what awaits him in the story's finale (brilliantly foreshadowed with the prologue's depiction of his grandfather) is almost heartrending. Radagast's storyline was wonderful--though the spectral Ringwraith struck me as just a bit...cartoonish. :/ Sylvester McCoy was exceptional in the role, lending a strong dose of humor and hinting at why Saruman holds him in such extreme scorn. The Goblintown scene was a breathtaking action piece, and yet in story terms was monumentally overshadowed by the Riddles in the Dark interaction between Bilbo and Gollum. I have a good-natured gag about vying for the title of coolest man ever born on April 20th, but a lot of that depends on Andy Serkis stumbling...and it's not happening yet. (Could you stop being badass for like five minutes, Serkis??) Gollum was a groundbreaking character ten years ago when The Two Towers was released...and now he's better. Like...much better! The Riddles in the Dark scene will rightly be remembered as the highlight of the film...and the entire film is essentially one big highlight reel to begin with. The later interactions between Bilbo and Thorin were unbelievable. The Hobbit's reappearance after the mountain crossing set up one of the most emotionally powerful scenes of the movie...only to be eclipsed just a few minutes later. The final scene with the two, standing on the Carrock after Bilbo has stepped in (way over his head) to save Thorin's life was downright beautiful. And once again, we're left with a little bit of a tease with Smaug--though I really enjoyed setting up the thrush knocking on the stone. If I have one complaint about the Hobbit, it's that we have to wait another year to see part 2.
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