I was pleased to hear Peter Jackson was filming JRR Tolkien’s classic story The Hobbit, because I enjoyed the earlier Lord of the Rings trilogy he directed. However, when I heard he was turning The Hobbit into three films my pleasure became tainted with cynicism, for it seemed motivated by money; The Hobbit is shorter than all of the three later novels, so it hardly justifies three separate films.
My chief memory of the book is falling a little in love with Bilbo Baggins, the titular Hobbit, for his sweetness and the courage and ingenuity he discovers during his unexpected adventure. After finishing The Hobbit I immediately read the Lord of the Rings, and remember being startled at the much more serious tone of those books. Bilbo goes off on an impulsive and rather risky adventure, but Frodo must undertake a quest he is unlikely to survive, for while the band of adventurers in The Hobbit are often in real danger, the stakes are dramatically increased in the Lord of the Rings, where the actual existence of worlds is threatened.
Despite my ambivalence I did go to see the film and I have to report it’s very good. It’s long – close to three hours with ads and trailers – but it didn’t feel padded and the story held my interest even though it really only covers the first 100 pages of the book.
The film follows Bilbo (Martin Freeman) after he joins a group of dwarves and magician Gandalf the Grey in their mission to restore Thorin Oakenshield (an heroic Richard Armitage) to his rightful place as King Under the Mountain. Along they way they encounter fearsome creatures and evil forces, and Bilbo finds the ring which features in the later trilogy.
The film is surprisingly dark, in part because the the orcs, trolls and goblins are truly grotesque and scary. The group is pursued by the creature who killed Thorin’s grandfather and possibly his father, a very nasty piece of work whose name I never quite understood (and who may not actually appear in the book as Jackson has reportedly borrowed from other of Tolkien’s works).
Barry Humphries voices the Great Goblin, a repulsive creature, and there are numerous trolls, orcs and Wargs to make life very difficult for our valiant troupe of dwarves and one hobbit. The special effects are (as expected) outstanding, and the scenery is a great ad for New Zealand tourism.
Ian McKellen reprises his role as Gandalf the Grey, and Hugo Weaving, Cate Blachett and Christopher Lee make short appearances as Elrond, Galadriel and Saruman respectively. I was particularly delighted to find Andy Serkis was again creating Gollum, the evil, cunning yet tragic creature who unknowingly has a pivotal part to play in momentous events.
I’m still struggling to see how Jackson can make the remaining 200 pages of the novel into two long films, but if the first film is anything to go by, he will do it and do it well.