If you are not a hardcore fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s inhabitants of Middle-earth and Peter Jackson’s monstrously long films about them and if you plan to see “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Story,” you’ll need two things – plenty of food and a box of NoDoz. If Jackson’s latest foray into the world of wizards, hobbits, Orcs, goblins, and myriad other CGI creatures does nothing else, it firmly establishes him as the undisputed king of making incredibly lengthy movies.
Tolkien first published “The Hobbit” in 1937 as book primarily for children, and to say the book has enjoyed phenomenal success is a gross understatement. In the 75 years since its publication it has sold more than 100 million copies, been translated into at least 50 languages, and perhaps most remarkably it has never been out of print. Although the first edition of the book was only about 300 pages long, Jackson has managed to milk three major motion pictures from it, and the first one weighs with a bloated running time of 169 minutes.
“The Hobbit” begins as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) sits down on his 111th birthday and writes the following words to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood): “My dear Frodo, you asked me once if I had told you everything there was to know about my adventures. While I can honestly say I have told you the truth, I may not have told you all of it.” And the film chronicles an event in Bilbo’s life that transpired 60 years ago.
After a nasty dragon named Smaug takes over the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) convinces Bilbo to join him and 13 dwarves on a trip to Lonely Mountain to reclaim their kingdom from Smaug. As you would expect in film like this, during their trip the dwarves encounter all kinds of nasty beings including giant spiders, goblins, Orcs, Wargs, and shapeshifters, all brought to life through the magic of CGI.
Because “The Hobbit” is a prequel for the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it contains a scene vital to the books that follow. At one point, Bilbo becomes separated from the others and falls into a cave where he encounters one of the key characters that will run through all the stories. Gollum (Andy Serkis) is a pathetically strange being who was a Stoor Hobbit living near the Gladden Fields. His association with a powerful ring that can render beings invisible has corrupted him, and he constantly refers to it as his “precious.” Just before Bilbo plunges into the cave, Gollum killed a troll for some food and dropped his ring during the struggle.
When Bilbo finds himself face-to-face with Gollum, he immediately realizes he’s in grave danger. In fact, Gollum wants to eat him, but the two of them finally agree to a riddle contest, and if Bilbo wins, Gollum will show him the way out of the cave. It’s interesting to note that Gollum doesn’t show up until almost two hours into the film, but this scene in the book takes place in chapter five of 19 total chapters. Thus, there is plenty of material left for two more films. Hobbit lovers can rejoice.
Now if you are wondering whether or not Bilbo escapes, I won’t tell you, but it shouldn’t be too hard for you to guess. However, while we’re on the subject of guessing, perhaps you want to try your hand at solving one of the riddles Bilbo and Gollum share: “A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.” I’ll give you the answer shortly.
My comment about the NoDoz and food at the outset of this review should give you an accurate indication of how I felt about this film. I have no doubt that the Tolkien addicts will be satisfied with it because it’s more of the same that Jackson gave us in the trilogy, which, depending upon which DVD set you opt for, will take you anywhere from more than nine hours up to in excess of 12 hours to watch at one time.
In the film’s production notes, director Jackson offered a comparison between this movie and the trilogy.
“‘The Hobbit’ has a breathless pace because Tolkien was writing it as a story for his children and for the children of the world. It’s a ripping yarn that moves from event to event, and really doesn’t stop. It’s a little more humorous than ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ the characters are a little more colorful, but it nonetheless has elements of greed and madness, of an innocent who is changed forever, and of the gathering forces that will lead directly into the events in ‘The Lord Of The Rings.’ This is where it all starts.”
Like the three films in the trilogy, “The Hobbit” is rife with CGI technology, but very frankly I became a bit bored watching one special effects war after another. I found it tediously repetitious, and I thought it took much too long to arrive finally at the key confrontation between Bilbo and Gollum. I also realize that Gollum is an other worldly being, but he is very difficult to understand unless he’s saying “precious.” In fact, he sounds the way I would imagine Donald Duck sounded before he learned to talk.
As he was in the trilogy films, Serkis is remarkable in the part of Gollum, and Freeman proves to be a very convincing and likable hobbit. In the production notes, Jackson explained why he cast Freeman in the role.
“Bilbo is like a regular person and reacts the way any one of us likely would if we were in his situation. When Bilbo is faced with a Troll, he doesn’t necessarily grab his sword and start fighting — he panics. And that’s what’s so incredible about Martin. He doesn’t want to pretend any of it; he’s always real and authentic. I’ve always thought of Hobbits as being very English, with their little cups of tea and their feet up by the fire. Martin is probably one of the nearest people to a Hobbit that I’ve ever met.”
The scene between Gollum and Bilbo definitely is the highlight of the film, but for me there was too much to sit through before it ultimately came on the screen. Taking everything into consideration, I’ll give “The Hobbit” a generous final score of five mainly because of Freeman and Serkis and because McKellen looks every inch of a wizard.
Those who really enjoyed this film can look forward to the two sequels subtitled “The Desolation of Smaug” (2013) and “There and Back Again” (2014). If they are as drawn out as this one, I think I’ll pass.
And now for the answer to the riddle: “A box without hinges, key, or lid, yet golden treasure inside is hid.” It’s an egg of course! Isn’t that a yolk?