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Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by Peter Jackson
This review comes with a warning: it’s not from an ardent follower or even admirer of Middle Earth and its peoples. Yes, there is a very basic familiarity with Bilbo, Frodo and the other creations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s pen, but not an inflexible dedication and loyalty to them. The result: one often lost the way in the extended, meandering narrative and got confused in joining some dots spread over the film.
On paper, The Hobbit is a very simple children’s fantasy. Bilbo Baggins (an endearing Freeman), approached by the wizard Gandalf (the solid and stellar McKellen), reluctantly heads for the Lonely Mountain with a group of 13 dwarves led by Thorin (Armitage). Their aim is to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the terrifying dragon Smaug (Cumberbatch — to be seen full blown in the next two films). Their adventures en route and the beguiling characters they encounter—goblins, elves, sorcerers and, of course, Gollum (Serkis)—make it a life-altering experience for Bilbo.
The Hobbit is much more straightforward and undemanding than The Lord of The Rings but Peter Jackson chooses to lend it a monumental, epic touch by stretching it over three films, two of which, The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again, will release in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Jackson crafts a long and detailed film. The innumerable characters are invested with depth, nuance and human dimensions, be it feelings of guilt or guile. But at three hours, it does seem to stretch on and leaves one impatient, weary and indifferent. What pays off is Jackson’s visual ambition and technical ingenuity. The setting—Rivendell, or the dwarf or the goblin world—is magically realised. The sheer spectacle enthralls, be it Gollum or a brief glimpse of Smaug achieved through motion capture or the exhilarating action sequences or the glorious computer-generated special effects. Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum is alone worth the price of admission. I did not see the film in the new fangled HFR (High Frame Rate)—48 frames per second, as opposed to the traditional 24—in which The Hobbit has been shot, but I’m told it takes some getting used to, in order to appreciate the depth and dimensions it ostensibly adds.
A version of this appears in print. This was edited online