I saw The Hobbit this weekend, and it was so much fun to go back to Middle Earth. The movie is excellent on so many levels, from the characters to the action to the vistas…and to the return to Middle Earth. Also–Martin Freeman!
This is a prequel that is self-aware of its own sequel, but that works. The movie begins, I believe, the same morning as The Fellowship of the Rings. Bilbo is writing his memoirs and nephew Frodo is eagerly anticipating the arrival of Gandalf the wizard for Bilbo’s party. And then we flash back sixty years…to watch an unchanged Gandalf select a much younger Bilbo for an adventure–along with thirteen dwarves who invade Bilbo’s home in a very funny fashion. Bilbo reluctantly embarks on “an unexpected journey,” and soon finds himself engulfed in a quest to fight a dragon to reclaim the dwarf homeland, fighting orcs and trolls and even stranger creatures along the way. Meanwhile, Gandalf and others are worried about the rise of darker powers in a pretty obvious foreshadowing–but no matter, it gives it a nice all-tied-together feeling.
Let’s start with Bilbo. To reiterate–Martin Freeman! This actually makes the long wait for Sherlock feel worth it. Freeman is playing the character he plays best, the ordinary chap who just wants a peaceful life (and perhaps a hot cup of tea), only to find himself thrust into chaos far beyond his scope. He has to rise to meet it, and discovers he has a zest for adventure in the process. Such is Arthur Dent, Dr. Watson, and most definitely Bilbo Baggins. Starting from a scene where he firmly tells Gandalf that no adventures are wanted here, they’re inconvenient and make one late for dinner, Bilbo grows into a hero almost in spite of himself. At the risk of a slight spoiler, I will say that he eventually shows courage in battle–but I think I was more impressed by a scene afterwards when he shows that he understands what they’re fighting for, believes in the rightness of the cause, and is willing to persevere to make it happen. That’s more indicative of character growth than hitting an orc with a sword.
The other biggest character in the movie is Gandalf the Grey Wizard, wise and yet at times very humanly unsure too. Ian McKellan is excellent, conveying all sorts of depth of emotion with just a twinkle of the eye or a curl of the lip somewhere behind that enormous beard.
It’s a movie of beards, by the way, since we spend most of it in the company of dwarves with some fantastic beards. Thorin, the dwarf king, is the most serious and complex of the group, the leader of the quest and the somewhat Aragorn-like figure of the movie: rough and sometimes terse, but good-hearted and a brave leader. The rest of the dwarves shine largely as comic relief, but provide the occasional dramatic insight too.
One of the most striking characters of all is Gollum. I doubt he was in the movie for more than fifteen minutes, but they are among the most memorable fifteen minutes. He’s completely mad, big-eyed and sad one moment, snarling the next, and just so excellently done all the time.
There are also cameos by other old friends–Frodo was mentioned above, and we also see Elrond, Galadrial and Sarumon. I confess I was rather hoping for Legolas (I don’t care what the purists say about his not being in the book), but IMDB tells me he won’t be along until the third movie. I was also watching for Benedict Cumberbatch, never saw him except in the credits, and figured out after I got home that he was the Necromancer–who I think was only seen in silhouette for about five seconds. Next movie, I hope for more.
But on the subject of old friends–it is so much fun to come back to this world, to see some of the same faces, to recognize the same creative style. I am by no means a major Lord of the Rings fan, and it’s been years since I watched the movies. Yet there’s something so nostalgic about The Hobbit. This may be enhanced by the fact that we’ve come back to what is, in a way, a simpler time in Middle Earth. Sauron is just starting to rise, Smaug is a comparatively small villain, and the movie is more light-hearted, at least in spots.
There are certainly epic sword fights and large-scale battles with hideous monsters, and moments that are just so deliciously Tolkienesque. I don’t really know how else to describe it, because I think he set the definition. He set the standards that so many others are emulating and going back to the original just brings it to some kind of pinnacle of fantasy.
But there are also funny parts, particularly the beginning as the dwarves run rough-shod over Bilbo’s home, and most especially a scene involving a trio of gourmet if stupid trolls who want Dwarf for dinner.
There are also incredible views. If Lord of the Rings has led you to expect scenes of footsore travelers traipsing across mountain paths with breathtaking vistas behind them…you will not be disappointed. The setting is really remarkable throughout, from the sweeping views to the beautiful Rivendell set amidst waterfalls, to the truly horrible troll kingdom, to the cozy homeyness of the Shire. It’s all so vivid, so beautifully realized…and I saw it in simple old 2D.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t reflect on the fact that this is a long movie. And it’s part one of three. It reminds me of Harry Potter 7, Part 1, in that it feels like someone set about to include every detail they could. The Hobbit is not a slow movie, but it is a movie that takes its time. It will not be rushed, it will not leave anything out, and if there is an element of backstory or a moment of foreshadowing to be told, it will tell it. No need to hurry, just relax and enjoy the scenery. It’s almost a little cosy, if I can use that word to describe a movie involving orcs and swords and falling off of mountains.
I have to admit I’m not quite sure how there are going to be two more movies after this, but I’m content to sit back and see where the journey takes us. I look forward to continuing to visit Middle Earth, because it’s an amazing place where so many fantastic things can happen. I mean, there are dwarves, and elves, and a city built amongst waterfalls, and stone giants! It’s just–wow!
Also–Martin Freeman! 🙂
Movie site: http://www.thehobbit.com