Movie Review: The Hobbit
By Matthew Huntley
December 20, 2012
Whatever the psychological reasons, I felt more encapsulated and enamored by Middle Earth this time around than with LOTR, and I also felt more invested and charmed by the characters. The dwarves, elves, wizards, goblins, dragons, orcs and, of course, hobbits, ingratiated me, especially the titular hero, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman). His short height, big, hairy feet and larger-than-life appetite make him instantly sympathetic and likable. He lives among many other hobbits in a peaceful little valley called the Shire, unexposed to harm and used to easy, quotidian routines like reading, smoking a pipe, tending to a garden, eating, snacking, being warmed by a cozy fire and sleeping in a soft bed. That’s how hobbits like it and Bilbo is no different.
Then one day, he’s visited by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), a tall and eloquent wizard, who asks him to take part in an adventure. But Bilbo isn’t interested, not even after 13 dwarves barge into his house, eat all of his food and ask him to play the part of “burglar” in their quest to return to the once-opulent Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor within Lonely Mountain. Their mission: take back their gold and other treasures from a sleeping dragon named Smaug. The dwarves are led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage), grandson of the last ruling dwarf king, and we get the sneaking suspicion he’s after something more than just the gold.
If you’re at all familiar with the previous LOTR films, then a lot of The Hobbit will feel like more of the same, right down to the events of the plot. The group experiences several hurdles and conflicts as they trek to their far-off destination, including encounters with another wizard, trolls, orcs, elves, goblins and eagles. But even if the film does retread familiar territory, it’s altogether a better, more enjoyable story, and that’s probably because it contains a protagonist with whom we can identify.
LOTR suffered because it had too many characters, each competing for screen time, and while The Hobbit is also populated with several characters, Bilbo is at the heart of it and credit must be given to Martin Freeman for bringing him weight and dimension. At one point, after Bilbo discovers the infamous Ring and steals it from the pathetic and emaciated Gollum (once again, a motion-captured Andy Serkis), there’s a very important close-up that reveals Bilbo’s inner humanity, which will serve as the driving force for the rest of his journey.
While there were plenty of reasons to watch (and enjoy) The Lord of the Rings, it remains a series that was more admirable than likable, or even entertaining. The Hobbit is just as admirable, but with its engaging central figure, we’re provided more of a reason to invest our hearts in it and anticipate the next installment. Yes, Tolkien’s story, which was just over 300 pages, could have been told in a single movie - Jackson pads the narrative too much, especially with elongated fight scenes that could have been shorter, tighter and more tension-filled - but the characters manage to give it purpose. We hope and want to see them reach their destination, and even though we have little doubt they will, we care enough about them just to make sure.