First of all, DO NOT see the Hobbit projected in the overhyped 48 frames a second and in 3D. The 3D is already an unwelcome distraction; the 48-frame projection makes it very hard to ignore the headache and the nausea caused by the disorientation.
Peter Jackson and his gang keep reminding us on talk shows how “real” the 48-frame projection looks. To me, it makes a film that’s supposed to depict an epic fantasy look like a cheap straight-to-DVD knock-off. My three-and-a-half star rating for The Hobbit refers only to the film itself, imagined by me projected on 2D and at 24 frames a second. The 48-frame 3D version deserves 2 ½ stars, at most.
After this brief disclaimer, let’s move on to the movie itself. Finally, Tolkien fans get to lay eyes on the first installment of Peter Jackson’s version of The Hobbit after years of delays and setbacks. So the most important question is, was it worth the wait? Yes and no.
Based on a single and admittedly simpler book as opposed to the epic trilogy, The Hobbit is more of nostalgic retread where we get to revisit familiar characters while enjoying Weta’s superb digital effects, as opposed to the grand and timeless adventure of The Lord of The Rings. But we shouldn’t have had higher expectations that this anyway.
First of all, I think the overall story arc of The Hobbit is not as intriguing and exciting as LOTR to begin with. There’s a big difference in the importance of motivation between Frodo being tasked with saving the entire Middle Earth and his uncle Bilbo prancing out of The Shire in order to simply partake in an adventure.
John Campbell had a term called “The call to adventure” when describing the story structure of ancient mythology. It is the moment when our protagonist is torn away from the familiar world into a brand new, confusing and dangerous realm. Frodo’s call to adventure revolved around him, and only him being able to destroy the ring of power.
The mission that Bilbo partakes in to take back the homeland of 13 dwarves from the evil dragon Smaug does not hold as much importance or danger, at least for Bilbo, even though Jackson and his co-screenwriters find pretty flimsy ways of making the adventure more personal for him in the form of a couple of expositional monologues.
Even thought our expectations shouldn’t be as high as LOTR, Jackson doesn’t deprive us of big, long and mostly exciting battle scenes testing the limits of special effects, but unfortunately the episodic structure of the book remains intact. It’s interesting that in the middle of one battle sequence between the dwarves and orcs after another, the most original and breathtaking scene revolves around two giant rock mountains fighting each other.
Revisiting some familiar characters from LOTR can’t really take us beyond a simple reunion. However, I did enjoy watching how the stone trolls from LOTR turned out that way. As far as Bilbo’s much-hyped scene with Gollum, I remember thinking “I hope this scene is not adapted as is, otherwise it will be really dull” while reading the book, and my fear was sadly justified. Of course Ian McKellan and Andy Serkis are perfect as Gandalf and Gollum, respectively. They were born to play these parts.
Time will tell how smart of a move it was to expand this simpler story into three films. But this first part will probably satisfy the fans, as long as they don’t expect LOTR.