Just a quick warning, this may contain spoilers (even if you have read the book!), so read ahead at your own risk!
Where do I even begin talking about The Hobbit? It’s such an epic film, I just don’t know where to start! I can’t believe it’s finally out in the cinemas, it feels like we’ve been teased with the trailers for so long now, I almost didn’t believe it until I actually sat down and saw it begin. And what a beginning! It kicks off with Bilbo sitting down to write his adventures for Frodo on the day of his big birthday party at the start of The Fellowship of the Ring, so if the whole trilogy ends, as I imagine it will, with Bilbo wrapping up the book, it will lead absolutely perfectly into the beginning of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. How tidy! It also means we get to see a bit more of Elijah Wood as Frodo, if only for a short time, which is obviously never a bad thing.
As for the main body of the film, it (in the majority) follows the book so closely that at times I’m pretty sure the dialogue is actually word for word. It does also include material from Tolkien’s appendices, so the Necromancer features alongside the ever-so-eccentric wizard Radagast the Brown. Although this doesn’t feature in the main body of Tolkien’s The Hobbit story, it actually fits in incredibly well. Anyone who’s read The Hobbit might remember Gandalf disappearing for a while and explaining, when he returns, that he’s been dealing with the Necromancer. The film has the opportunity to show this, in the form written by Tolkien in the appendices, despite it being left out of the main narrative of the book. It also sets up The Hobbit as a prequel to The Lord of the Rings wonderfully, because there’s a lot in The Lord of the Rings (such as the Nazgul) that apparently can be explained by the Necromancer’s story, and it answers a lot of questions that you didn’t even know you were asking and really helps set up some of the action in The Lord of the Rings. And this is only from the first instalment, who knows what else will be revealed in parts 2 and 3!
The film is also a lot funnier than I thought it would be, although without being silly, and I frequently found myself having a little chuckle. I imagine the second and third instalments will be a lot darker with more battles etc., so it’s rather nice to kick of the trilogy with an occasional spot of light hearted comic relief. It does sometimes verge into the realm of slightly bizarre, for instance there’s a moment with a goblin which wouldn’t have looked out of place next to Mr oh-so-tight-trousers Bowie in Labyrinth, happily taking down messages while swaying on a swing, and Bilbo’s idea of blending into the background by simply crouching on the ground is perhaps a little far-fetched, but perhaps far-fetched is the wrong kind of description for a film dealing in the fantastical. In the same way as the book, the film is perhaps less serious than The Lord of the Rings and more of a family adventure (afterall, Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for his children), but there’s still a lot of action and it’s really engaging throughout, without once being childish. I did find some of the chasing and battle scenes a little stressful, although in an exhilarating way, so perhaps this is not necessarily a film for the kids, and I will always find Orcs to be seriously creepy and actually rather frightening (I was, and still am actually, totally terrified of the Uruk-Hai that kills Boromir in The Fellowship of the Rings, he seriously gave me the willies!) It was such brilliant filming though, because even though I know the story from reading the book, the fights and chases literally kept me on the edge of my seat with my hand over my mouth, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away even if I wanted to (obviously I didn’t).
Generally, I thought the casting was superb. Andy Serkis and Ian McKellen were, as always, wonderful as Gollum and Gandalf, and the interaction between Gandalf and the dwarfs is so seamless considering that they weren’t actually present on set at the same time. Instead, Gandalf filmed on a different set to the dwarfs and was superimposed or some other technical wizardry (ha!) to effectively achieve the difference in height and proportions between wizards and dwarfs. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Martin Freeman playing Bilbo, but I thought he was excellent actually, and fitted in really well with Ian Holmes’ portrayal in the main Lord of the Rings trilogy. Richard Armitage was also fabulous and, may I say, rather dashing, especially as a younger dwarf prince clad in royal blue and wielding a sword. I’ve always been a fan of The ‘Tage, ever since his role as the gorgeous Mr Thornton in North and South, so it’s really lovely to see him getting some well deserved recognition in such a massive trilogy. I thought Dean O’Gorman and the beautiful Aidan Turner were charming and loveable as the younger, mischievous and downright cheeky dwarfs Fili and Kili, and the extremely shallow (and rather large) part of me was delighted that the powers that be chose lovely Aidan as the go-to-dwarf shot (after Richard Armitage as Thorin of course), I very much appreciated the amount of screen time he got. My favourite character of them all, though, has to be Sebastian. I shan’t give too much away if you haven’t seen it, but I was quite taken with the little chap.
Naturally, having already shown my appreciation of Richard Armitage and Aidan Turner, I really enjoyed their opportunity to sing a dwarf song, the motif of which recurred throughout the film and sounded quite epic and stirring actually. Howard Shore is once again responsible for the soundtrack, which is really rather wonderful, and features a lot of familiar motifs from the Lord of the Rings trilogy (fans will recognise the lively hobbit themes in particular) as well as introducing new ones, such as that of the dwarfs. This is a soundtrack that I can’t wait to get my hands on, everything about it seemed so fitting and appropriate for the film.
I know a lot of people might be put off by the length of the film, and will be wondering how Peter Jackson can have dragged out what is a relatively short book into three epic films. I was rather worried myself, considering I’d had very little sleep the night before and was going to a night showing after a full day’s work (where I’d already managed to fall asleep at my desk!), I was concerned that it’d drag on and I’d end up falling asleep or willing it to end. Thankfully neither of those things happened and, after 169 minutes of film, amazingly I didn’t even need a wee! I was actually really surprised when it came to an end, I felt like there must have been at least an hour left because it seemed to go so quickly. It’s so packed full of plot and action all the way through that I didn’t even register that I’d been sitting watching for nearly three hours. It also seemed like a really good and natural place for the film to end and the book to be divided. Also having seen the film, I’m not surprised either that Jackson’s managed to get three films out of the book. I know it seems fairly short (the book, that is), especially in comparison to The Lord of the Rings, but it’s so fast paced that there is actually a massive amount of stuff to get through. Plus even the extended editions of Lord of the Rings had to leave out some aspects of the book, so it’s not surprising that The Hobbit can be sustained through three huge productions.
So what can I say, other than that I absolutely loved the film. I’ve been so excited to see it for so long, and it met all of my expectations. It has such a huge and wonderful cast that I kept forgetting who was going to be in it, which led to lots of nice surprises along the way (like James Nesbitt! I totally forgot he was going to be in it, what a turn-up that was!) The only problem I have with it is the fact that I’ve got to wait a whole year before seeing the next one. I don’t really understand why the wait has to be so long and it does feel a little bit like they’re milking the cash cow and buying time so they can sell as many related products in between. I predict individual DVDs/soundtracks, plus boxsets of the DVDs and soundtracks as each new film is released, followed by extended editions obviously, maybe a making of documentary like they did with Lord of the Rings and the character of Gollum etc. etc. It seems a little unfair in a way, the Lord of the Rings films gained such a huge fanbase that it would be nice if the fans could be rewarded by seeing the films in much quicker succession, and I don’t really see why that can’t be the case as I understood all of the work on parts 2 and 3 had been finished, and the films are essentially ready to go. I already feel like I had to wait so long just to see part 1, it seems very strange to think that we won’t get to see the conclusion until 2014. But on the plus side, I’m sure the whole trilogy will do amazingly well and it’s because of this certainty that decisions about release dates can be made, confident with the knowledge that the fans may grumble but that they will also definitely see the films and make the most of all marketing opportunities inbetween. As much as I’d like to wait to get an extended edition of the film (if ever there is one, and knowing Peter Jackson’s love for Tolkien’s work I’m sure there will be), I know that I’m bound to buy the DVD and frantically rewatch the first instalment before the release of part 2, and the same before part 3. The only thing we can do now is wait for December 2013, and what a wait that’s going to be!
Seriously though, if you enjoyed The Lord of the Rings (and how could you not?!), I really can’t recommend The Hobbit enough. It works so well not just as an adaptation of the book, but as an addition to an existing film canon, and I just can’t wait until all three Hobbit films have been released and I can watch it and The Lord of the Rings as one continuous story.