An unexpected marathon: PAR watches The Hobbit
The Hobbit clocks in at two hours and forty-five minutes, which is an impressive length for the first third of a trilogy based on a slim book. Whether or not you feel the movie has been padded may be determined by your affection for the source material. Every battle that was talked about in the book is now shown in grand scale. There are lengthy discussions about weighty things, dwarves that sing, and maps that are treated like gold. I enjoyed almost every moment. Peter Jackson stretched The Hobbit by showing more often than telling, and much time is spent foreshadowing the events of The Lord of the Rings. There is a fascinating discussion between Gandalf, Elrond, Saruman, and Galadrial that may anger some fans of the original books, but felt right in the greater context of the movie series. There are some interesting questions raised by this adaptation, chief among them how much the elves knew about Sauron’s return and Saruman’s involvement, and when that suspicion began. The Hobbit's tone is more even than The Lord of the Rings, a film that often employed tone-deaf humor and slapstick during its largest battles. The Hobbit doesn’t mind moments of levity here and there, but it's able to maintain a level of respect and affection for its characters. The company of dwarves that make up the quest to reclaim their homeland of Erebor from the dragon Smaug may not be the best warriors, and their love of food and drink may rival that of hobbits, but they’re also brave, willing to fight, and loyal to their leader. They throw plates and eat too much cheese, but they are also aware of what their kind has lost, and what’s at stake in their journey.Some dwarves may be overweight, and some may be more adept with a slingshot than with a sword, but they came when Thorin, the heir to the throne of Erebor, called. They are likely to die, and Thorin understands the risk; actor Richard Armitage fills the character with both a steely reserve and a deep sense of longing and sadness. The dwarves make a fascinating group, and the actors under the elaborate beards and lard noses must do some heavy lifting. You’ll often be reminded of David Tennant’s ability to make a character seem carefree, only to have a scene shift into unexpected pathos. There are a few missteps. The scenes with Radagast the Brown, another wizard, help to move the plot along and a certain sword is introduced, but he’s overly clownish. The jokes about drug use are chuckle-worthy, but seem to wink at the viewer. The less said about the hedgehog scene, the better. The special effects are certainly special but, like The Lord of the Rings, certain scenes look like you’re watching miniatures run through large environments. When the filmmakers are trying to make things look huge, they sometimes instead make everything look very small. Martin Freeman is pitch-perfect as Bilbo Baggins, although the film trips all over itself trying to connect to the Lord of the Rings films. Ian Holm returns as the older Bilbo, and Elijah Wood also enjoys a cameo as a Frodo Baggins who seems to have gone through puberty, lower voice and all. This is supposed to be a prequel, but it's hard to hide actors that have grown older. Hugo Weaving is impressive as Elrond, but for an ageless creature he can seem grandfatherly. Elves shouldn't look old. The Hobbit introduces an unneeded bad guy in Azog the Defiler, a pale orc with a wicked fake arm who seems to be there to gnash his teeth at the camera and not kill people when given the chance. Most of the characters feel oddly safe from harm, which is strange in a film that's filled with so many tense scenes. Each battle consists of moments where it seems like someone should die, but no one does. They are protected due to being the good guys; something that feels familiar to D&D players who have ever played with a DM who is unwilling to kill players. The few odd moments are outweighed by scenes like the riddle battle between Gollum and Bilbo, which could stand alone as a one-act play. Gollum's animations and menace have been improved since The Lord of the Rings, and Andy Serkis once again makes his case for an Academy Award for a digital character. Serkis also directed the film's second unit, which is an immense undertaking on a project this expansive. This isn't a perfect film, and it's certainly long, but it doesn't feel bloated. The Hobbit is aimed squarely at fans of Tolkien's work, almost to a fault, and Peter Jackson is clearly desperate to create one long, six-film epic that ties neatly together. It's an unfathomably ambitious goal, but when the results are this good it's hard to complain. I saw the movie in IMAX 3D, and skipped the 48FPS version.