Peter Jackson returns to directing/ writing/ producing Tolkien's Middle Earth, this time telling the story of how Bilbo Baggins obtains the One Ring and battles Smaug, the dragon. The tale is lighter in heart than the brooding Lord of the Rings, providing more kid-friendly moments. A few returning faces, such as Ian McKellen, Ian Holms and Hugo Weaving provide a sense of continuity for those who have seen the LoTR trilogy. Though, because of the limits of The Hobbit's plot, and stretching it through three more movies, the movie does not necessarily hold up to the standards that Jackson previously set.
The story begins with a brief look into the life of elder-Bilbo (Holms), before the events of Fellowship of the Ring, who is starting to write his memoir, There and Back Again. The story then flashes back to younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) who's perfectly content to stay in the Shire. Gandalf (McKellen) appears and tries to talk Bilbo into going on an adventure. Thirteen Dwarfs trash Bag End and explain that they need to take their kingdom back from the dragon Smaug. After a bit of convincing, Bilbo joins the dwarfs on their journey.
Running at 160 minutes, being part one of three, and adapting it all from a roughly 300 page book with plenty of supplemental material from Tolkien's works/ appendices, this first movie is a weighty quest. Much like butter spread thin over too much toast, even a patient person like me had a hard time sitting through this oversized fetch-quest. My less patient girlfriend compared it to paying $11 to watch someone play WoW for 3 hours.
That's not to say the adventure doesn't have it's appeals, especially to LoTR fans. The highlight of the movie, and the break it needed, was a battle of wits between Gollum (Andy Serkis, reprising) and Bilbo Baggins. To see the more feral, younger, and kind of adorable, Gollum, to the screen added some much needed blend of humor and danger to this mostly one-note story.
Thorin Oakenshield, the rightful king of the land Smaug has invaded, has an endearing tale of his own and acts as the emotional weight of the film. His not necessarily wanting Bilbo Baggins there matches nicely with Bilbo unsure if he wants to be there. An orc enemy from Thorin's past is hunting the small band to seek vengeance.
This movie is bright and greatly detailed, making for a more fantastical tale than Frodo's quest to destroy the One Ring. Mostly CGI creatures both work and don't work, the highlight of them being Gollum. The orcs and goblins look almost identical and the main villain looks like something right out of an action video game. The Goblin king was another highlight, linking the audience more to Tolkien's meaty lore within Middle Earth and being an intimidating foe for the band of dwarves.
The performances are top notch. Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage (Thorin) all bring their a-games and the results are ones that make me care what happens to these characters and the band they travel with. The camera can be unusually blurry when panning, resulting in a sense of vertigo for some, and there are ties to The Lord of The Rings that don't particularly add to Bilbo's story. For the most part, Jackson and co. make another quality adventure that, while not as interesting as the Lord of the Rings, I want to invest in and continue to follow through 2 more movies.