The Hobbit has taken an unexpected journey. It has left the path of its beloved father films and taken a more obscure road to claim its long forgotten gold.
Now, any new offering from a beloved film franchise runs the risk of negative comparison to the originals. So too with this. Seen side by side with the Lord of The Rings trilogy, The Hobbit looks jovially bloated.
Which is apt, given the general demeanour of the dwarf troupe that refuses to leave Bilbo’s house for what felt like aeons. Yes, they perform a contrived juggling routine after destroying Bilbo’s larder, but somehow this doesn’t add to the story or my involvement with it. And therein lies the seed of the film’s failing.
The filmmakers have decided to stretch what was a pretty small book into the same timeframe occupied by the epic of Frodo and co. Even with the addition of seemingly every tidbit to be garnered from Tolkien’s appendices, you get the feeling that every scene is milked for time, rather than effect. Even the added material detracts from the overall films.
Once the quest finally gets underway, the filmmakers almost immediately take us away from it. Whole characters could have been cut without doing much damage to the film. If anything, it would possibly have allowed us to focus on the main story, which would have been wonderful. The constant back and forth distracts the viewer. We don’t know where we should be focusing and, as a result, can’t focus that well on anything. We’re not given the time to truly connect with our heroes and their quest.
Part of the problem is also the roller-coaster approach to set-pieces. Even the troll scene is turned into a larger than life fight, with dwarves jumping and somersaulting around the trolls like bearded children from The Matrix. All the fight scenes have been turned into ridiculous thrill rides, with swooping cameras and silly use of the environments reducing the scene to farcical slapstick. None of the fights have any real tension to them. It’s too ridiculous. And to top it off, the writers saw fit to include jokes in the most inappropriate of places. Since when is slicing something’s belly open with a sword the right time for two punch lines?
It’s obvious that the approach is meant to be more in keeping with the lighter lime of the source material, but its reliance on fart jokes and clumsy setups leave it feeling incongruous with the violence and darkness of its themes. If it had come before the LOTR trilogy, it might have worked. But after the grit of the original, there is no way we’re going to accept our heroes skateboarding down a precipice on a piece of rickety scaffolding. Even the massive impacts the characters suffer don’t seem to phase them at all. They are impervious to damage, it seems, so why are they even running away? And why are we still watching?
The only scene that really grips is the game of riddles between Bilbo and Gollum. Only there did I feel truly worried about our hero. Only in that dark, psychotic little game does the film feel like The Hobbit. Gollum is once again so beautifully rendered and brilliantly played by Andy Serkis, that it feels like a trial to return to the relentless shots of dwarves running.
And that is a shame. The film isn’t all bad. The cinematography and special effects are amazing (Excepting the albino orc, which looks like it escaped from a computer game’s cut scene). The acting is really good and the design is mind-blowing.
It’s not the little beads that are the problem. It’s the string on which they were hung. The film just doesn’t gel. It’s violent and aimed at children at the same time. It’s dramatic and yet stuffed with shallow jokes. It doesn’t even feel like the same world as the one occupied by Frodo and Sam.
In the end, making the story into 3 films feels mercenary and unnecessary. Rather than giving the fans more, it has just made the story less vibrant. And not even the overuse of oversaturated sunsets could remedy that.