So who’s ready for another nine plus hours of hobbits, dwarves, orcs, elves, and Gandalf? Honestly the way director Peter Jackson, taking his fourth trip to Middle Earth, has worked this first of “The Hobbit” trilogy; it will feel like it’s going by in a flash. I’m so impressed with what he’s done here; proving again that nobody could do a better job of bringing J.R.R Tolkien’s stories to the screen quite like him.
This one starts with the dwarves of Arabor, cast off after the city was destroyed by a fire-breathing dragon. It’s not long before Prince Thorin (Richard Armitage) and a troop of twelve of his most loyal men invade the Shire home of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a former adventurous spirit who has grown into a complacent hobbit wimp, much to the chagrin of the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen). Gandalf still believes him to be the perfect “burglar,” or sneak, to help these dwarves maneuver back into and take back their city and so Bilbo becomes the reluctant fourteenth member on the team.
Critics have bitched and moaned about the film’s nearly three hour length, but why? This is not only fast-paced but also an engaging and immersive world that Jackson has done such a grand job of recreating and giving life to that you immediately want to watch the next installment. The dwarves are a fun group, rambunctious and funny like a band of frat boys but I enjoyed their chemistry and how they move as a synchronized unit, be it in battle or in cleaning up after a Shire house-party. They’re also called upon to sing (in unity) at certain moments and the harmony is quite beautiful (the ball’s in your court now, “Les Miserables”).
In addition, Bilbo and Thorin complete this group of heroes so well, giving it focus as well as its two emotional centers. Both men are eager to prove themselves, Thorin as a hero who can take the place of and avenge his murdered father (the frightening Orcs are the main villains in this one) and Bilbo as a goofy, nervous fellow looking to hold his own among men stronger and more battle-ready than himself. Freeman and Armitage each turn compelling roles here and Freeman in particular, known for his work on BBC’s version of “The Office” and “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy,” has the kind of charm that goes a long way toward bringing some needed laughs. And really what else can you say about Ian McKellen’s Gandalf that hasn’t already been said? He owns the part.
This is Peter Jackson at his best. The set design is fantastic, from the rolling grassy hills of the Shire, the palatial waterfalls of the elvish city of Rivendell, or the underground city of the goblins. This trek through battles with goblins, trolls, giant stone monsters, and orcs (such a great battle at the end in particular) is the most heart-stopping and breathtaking action I’ve seen all year, hands down.
And I haven’t mentioned Gollum yet, who makes an appearance close to the end and I hope not the last of this series. Andy Serkis again proves to be a king of motion-capture performances, managing to express this character’s madness and what’s left of his soul so vividly.
“The Hobbit” also brings new technology to the forefront, managing to create scenes that move at 48 frames a second. This is very noticeable, especially when characters occasionally seem to move like someone just hit the fast-forward button. I like where this is going though. It’s sort of like watching people from behind a clear window or high-definition Blu-ray. And it looks very good in 3-D.
And as if all this weren’t enough, the plot also introduces necromancy, Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee), all of which figure to take on bigger roles as this trilogy moves along. Many have complained that this doesn’t deserve to be three films, but if the next two films are anything like this, I couldn’t be more ecstatic about seeing them.