The Hobbit saw a great deal of turmoil cast its way before the first reel was ever shown. MGM went bankrupt, Guillermo Del Toro dropped out of the project and if all of that weren't bad enough, the first buzz about the film was that the high frame rate made it look like an afternoon soap.
Peter Jackson was always going to have a difficult time bringing another of J.R.R. Tolkien's books to life, given the enviable success he had with Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit is considered to be the lighter of the two stories and when Jackson announced that he was going to extend the story into a trilogy, sighs could be heard "he's doing it again."
The story is familiar enough: a hobbit is asked by Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to undertake a journey that could prove dangerous. Bilbo may survive, Gandalf contends, but he will never be the same. Thorin Oakenshield and the remaining members of his clan aim to reclaim their kingdom from the dragon Smaug that ravaged their homeland so many ages ago.
There's nothing inherently wrong with The Hobbit, but the repetition and excessive runtime creaks and groans. To boot, it has to contend with the massive expectations created by The Lord of the Rings. Still, the missteps seem to pile up the further the film goes on.
The fourteen dwarves are virtually impossible to distinguish. Characters aren't fleshed out and even the titular Bilbo (Martin Freeman) disappears for long stretches of time. Battle scenes feel tacked on and insignificant. The highs aren't as high and the lows are lower. Everything spectacular has been seen in the previous trilogy, so during the lags you can feel the seconds tick away. The Hobbit only really starts to display a pulse when Gollum (Andy Serkis) challenges Bilbo to a deadly game of riddles.
With all of that said, there is no need to push the Episode I panic button just yet.
Ian McKellen's Gandalf is still as wry and clever as ever as he ever was. Martin Freeman embodies all of the hearth of the Baggins patriarch while incorporating some of Ian Holm's quirks. Richard Armitage also lives up to the mythic reputation as Thorin. These characters are the saving grace of the flick and if Jackson could cleave some of the extra material he added, the dynamic relationships between characters that made Rings so special could be utilized here.
Peter Jackson crops little from the picture and one hopes that the next film is considerably trimmer. The first portion of The Hobbit series stumbles over itself, but the next installment will feature a lot more of Smaug. Let's also hope that it features more Bilbo.
**1/2 out of ****