Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Hobbit: review

Here are my thoughts, in a slightly structured but slightly random order.  I will try to limit comments on large scale adaptation of the book until I've seen all three films in a couple of years.  Spoilers follow.

  • I've seen the film in 2D and 3D.  3D still does not impress me - it just costs a bit more and makes my eyes hurt a bit.  I expect that 3D IMAX would be very impressive, but I haven't seen it.  I also haven't seen the film in 48fps, so I can't comment much on it - but I expect it looks good and I expect it to become the cinematic norm.
  • It was great to see Ian Holm and Elijah Wood in the film.  It helps to connect the film to LOTR.  I actually teared up when these two came on screen.
  • Martin Freeman is perfect.  I expected him to be very good, but he exceeded my expectations.  Simply outstanding.  He's a very capable serious actor but also has a great deadpan humour about him.  Sometimes it was just like watching him in The Office (in a good way).
  • New Zealand looks, if anything, even more spectacular than it did in LOTR.  Some of the wide shots are stunning.
  • The soundtrack is brilliant, both in it's own right and in the way it connects to the LOTR soundtrack.  Howard Shore, I salute you.
  • All three LOTR films started with some sort of prologue, and the first Hobbit film followed the pattern.  It worked really well, especially with Ian Holm's Bilbo narrating it.  I also liked the bonus prologue section later on detailing Azog and Thorin's enmity (more on Azog later).
  • The party scene was an excellent to introduce the dwarves.  It was full of humour but also meaty exposition.  It started to paint the picture of dwarven culture.  And it had some really good camerawork too.
  • Riddles in the dark was superb.  Everything I'd hoped for.  It's one of my favourite scenes from any book, and I was not let down.  I've already said how good Freeman is, and Serkis is, of course, a master.
  • The action sequences were sometimes a bit ridiculous.  The troll fight was good, as was the battle outside Moria, but the storm-giants scene and the escape from goblin-town were ludicrously overdone.  The storm-giants scene was unnecessary, and there was little chance anyone would have survived such an encounter, let alone all 15 of them.  Similarly, sequences in goblin-town were very unconvincing, especially with respect to the survival rate of the heroes.  One reviewer described these scenes as "extended, jovially bloody battle between dwarves and goblins, larded with visual jokes involving decapitation, disembowelment, and baddies crushed by rolling rocks. The sequence is more like a body-count video game than like anything in the sedate novel, where battles are confused and brief and frightening, rather than exuberant eye-candy ballet."
  • The warg attack was excessive and unnecessary.  It slowed the story down.  They could have just let Radagast go back to keep an eye on Mirkwood, and have Gandalf convince Thorin to go to Rivendell to check out the map.
  • One common criticism has been that the dwarves are just a bunch of personality-less simulacrums.  To an extent I agree with this.  I think Dwalin, Balin, Fili and Kili are distinct, partly because they arrive at the party in small groups, and Bofur is too, because he has an enlargened role and everyone always remembers James Nesbitt.  But the others lack screen time as individuals and lack opportunities to show themselves.  I can understand that a viewer would struggle to identify with many of them, especially if they hadn't been following the film's developments in advance.  I think Jackson could have spent more time with the dwarves, developing their characters, and cut the warg attack.
  • The troll scene good - funny but also perilous, and another chance to see the dwarves in action just being dwarves - as I just mentioned, the film needed more of this.
  • I liked the Radagast/Necromancer stuff.  It added an extra level of plot and peril above what was going on in the dwarves' quest, and it helped to start linking the film to LOTR.
  • Azog's role was changed from the book.  This was good.  It helped expand Thorin's role and added an extra elements of suspense.  It also provided this first film with a climax - much like the character or Lurtz did for FOTR.  More on Azog here.
  • The use of the orc language confused me.  In LOTR, orc and uruk-hai use the common tongue - not precisely accurate, but it makes sense from a simplicity point of view and makes the film easier to watch.  In The Hobbit, orc spoke their own language (subtitled) while on their own, and used the common tongue in scenes with dwarves.  This just seemed inconsistent with LOTR, which is a shame while most of the film is consistent.  It would have been better to just keep the orcs using the common tongue.
  • Gandalf's magic seemed inconsistent especially compared with LOTR.  He uses his magic a lot more in The Hobbit, or at least a lot more overtly.  Which begs the question, why didn't he use it more in LOTR.  Again, this is a consistency issue between the two trilogies.  It will be interesting to see what happens in parts 2 and 3.
  • I think they chose a good point at which to break the film - between the eagles and Beorn.
  • When Thorin charges Azog at the end of the film, the music playing is the Nazgul theme.  This baffled me.  I have no idea why they did this.  Anyone care to suggest a reason?
  • FOTR was practically the perfect film.  It had no weaknesses.  This wasn't as strong an opening to a trilogy as that was, but this was nevertheless an excellent film.  And I expect that the extended edition will include more dwarvishness, which I will enjoy.
  • Overall - a great film and excellent adaptation.  A very promising start to the trilogy indeed.  A bit to action-heavy for me, and the action that was there was sometimes over the top.  But other than that I have very few complaints.  My film of the year, perhaps?  That list will come soon.


Orrey said...

I wondered if the Nazgul theme for Azog meant that, eventually, PJ and co were going to tie him very explicitly into the "growing darkness" motif - i.e. that Azog is essentially a pawn/tool for Sauron's growing power? Or something like that. (Which would be not unrelated to the same sort of worry Gandalf expressed about Smaug at the white council...?)

There would obviously be positives and negatives to a move like that, but it could potentially make the Battle of the Five Armies seem a bit less spontaneous and more ominous. The safe bet is, of course, that PJ and Howard Shore (who is incredible - I'm on my 10th listen-through of the soundtrack) are always being deliberate with the score, so something's got to happen with this...

Alternative thoughts?

Unknown said...

That's the best theory I've heard. You could well be correct.

Jonathan Kitley said...

I must admit the use of the Nazgul theme annoyed me in both viewings. If Orrey's theory is correct then that makes sense, but I felt like in the film it was being applied to Thorin rather than Azog in that scene which made no sense. As Orrey said though an obvious error of this kind would be very uncharacteristic to say the least.
Also after multiple viewings I don't think many of the dwarfs were actually characterless there just wasn't time to develop most of their characters in the film. Many of the dwarfs though are given lines of a consistently similar nature, when they have lines at all. Hopefully more of them will be given more 3-dimensional characters as the later films (and extended editions)are released.

Anonymous said...

Fine review Ben. Basically, if you are a fan of original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, then there will be some thematic stuff here to enjoy (mostly near the end of the film) but otherwise don't bother with this one because it’s not perfect, it’s just alright.