hobbit

I can’t quite remember if I was nine or ten when I sat down at my mother’s old typewriter and wrote Jaws 3. Clearly, the version I pecked out didn’t go on to become the movie we all know and hate, and nor was my manuscript in 3D. I do, however, recall that it was all written in upper case and in a stunning and frankly unpredictable crossover twist, it featured Asterix The Gaul. Round about that same age, whatever age that was, I read The Hobbit for the first time and for the life of me, I can’t remember it being over a thousand pages long. I could’ve sworn it was under three hundred. But I must be wrong because in the opening installment of his much anticipated return to Middle Earth, it takes Peter Jackson the best part of three hours to cover the first six chapters. I also don’t remember all the dwarves being Scottish. How time blurs the edges of memory.

As a refresher, then, The Hobbit takes place decades before The Lord of the Rings and tells the tale of Bilbo Baggins, an unassuming creature who would rather indulge in smoking his pipe and eating regular meals than he would partake in anything adventurous. The bad news for him is that Gandalf the wizard and a band of Celtic dwarves require his services as a burglar in their quest to reclaim their homeland and a bunch of gold from the dragon Smaug. Along the way, they’ll encounter trolls, orcs and goblins and at no point will smoking breaks, three squares a day, or safe return be guaranteed. It’s an exciting tale that requires little in the way of concentration which, at 169 minutes, is just as well.

So why is it so long? Well, Jackson uses more than the original novel for his source and reaches out to the appendices of The Lord of the Rings along with other posthumously published material. While this does round off some of the plot points and provide a fuller explanation of the purpose of the quest, it does stray so far in places that it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to learn a scene or two was based around Tolkien’s shopping list. If there’s a film that could be doing with an appendectomy, this is probably it.

That said, when we first see The Shire and Bag End, there’s that warm, familiar sensation of homecoming. Even reading the title in its familiar font was enough to make me smile. Visually and atmospherically, it’s as resplendent as expected. The spectacular battle sequences, particularly in the Goblin cave, excite and dazzle. The swooping panoramic vistas are awesome. Insert some more superlatives here. Complaining too much about length, then, feels as churlish as inviting a group of beloved friends round for tea and then moaning when they hang around for half an hour more than expected and don’t tidy up behind themselves.

Armed as he is with a pair of exceptionally expressive eyebrows, Martin Freeman (The Office, Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is perfect in the role of reluctant hero Bilbo Baggins. He’s utterly convincing in his initial weariness as he drags his hairy hobbit feet behind the gung-ho dwarf posse and if the movie itself is indulgant, his performance is beautfully understated. He even has the good sense to look like a young Ian Holm. Ian McKellen’s portrayal of the oft AWOL Gandalf is more light-hearted than in The Lord of the Rings but no less enjoyable and while most of the band of dwarves are interchangable, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott and Richard Armitage stand out.

Arguably, though, the showstealer is Andy Serkis, who once more dons the Suit of Many Dots to be motion-captured as the CGI’d Gollum. He’s even more lifelike and tangble here and the tragedy of his character is positively Shakespearian. The scene where he exchanges riddles with Bilbo is fantastic fun and given what we know of the events to come in The Lord of the Rings, the scene provides an interesting conversation piece around consequentialism.

Okay, so it’s overlong and takes half an hour to get going and yes, fine, there’s an awful lot of sitting around talking about stuff that’s already happened and, alright, at times it feels like a documentary about a hiking holiday through Middle Earth and perhaps, just perhaps, a couple of two hour movies may well have been a more favourable idea than a trio of three hour movies but once this story is told, that’s it. There’s no more Tolkien for Peter Jackson to tell. We’ll be done with his vision of Middle Earth. For the time being, then, I’m happy enough to go there. And back again.

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