A middling return to Middle Earth.
DIRECTED BY PETER JACKSON
Being a prequel, the first instalment of Peter Jackson’s long-awaited adaptation of The Hobbit doesn’t strictly pick up where The Lord of the Rings trilogy left off, but fans of the blockbuster fantasy franchise will, by and large, feel right at home. Back are Bilbo (Martin Freeman), Bag End, and the Shire, as well as wizened wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen), and Gollum (Andy Serkis), everyone’s favourite bug-eyed coveter of cursed bling. Returning, too, are Jackson’s sweeping panoramas of New Zealand’s lush pastures and windswept peaks, which once again serve as aptly majestic backdrops for Tolkien’s epic brand of make-believe.
For the less feverishly devoted, however, The Hobbit isn’t so much a case of happy returns as diminishing ones. Tolkien’s original, kid-friendly Middle Earth adventure is simply less compelling than his subsequent trilogy, lacking both its cataclysmic portent and the vibrant camaraderie of its central fellowship. (Tellingly, none of The Hobbit’s 13 leading dwarves leaves half the impression that Gimli—also a dwarf—did in the Rings films.) And Jackson’s decision to expand Tolkien’s relatively slender volume into a second trilogy compounds the problem. Here, the author’s first six chapters are stretched into a three-hour spectacle that dazzles only in fits and starts.
When it does dazzle, though, The Hobbit improves even on the visual splendour of Jackson’s earlier Rings efforts. The nine years since Return of the King have seen big strides toward seamless CGI, and Weta Digital takes full advantage, delivering several vividly imagined, hugely dynamic set pieces. But, alas, even The Hobbit’s technical innovations come with a significant caveat: beware screenings presented in the uncannily vivid 48-fps format, which lends the film a jarring, “consumer-grade” look and feel, despite its otherwise lavish production values.