It’s daunting to think how The Fellowship of the Ring, the first installment in The Lord Of The Rings trilogy was released over a decade ago. The first few frames of The Hobbit surely feel like director, Peter Jackson never departed the fantasy world of Middle Earth. He reprises his directorial duties with the confident hand of a master craftsman who delivers epic cinematic journeys for a living. However, in spite of the filmmaker’s evident passion and didactic knowledge of Tolkien’s literary opus, the film plays out like an overly long treat to indulge hard-core fans without bringing anything fresh to the franchise.
The Hobbit is not really an intended prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote it first and then was prompted to expand its fantasy world after the book’s success. The cinematic treatment of the saga is happening in reverse and the filmmakers have chosen to frame The Hobbit with old Bilbo Baggins writing his story for his beloved cousin Frodo. Ian Holm and Elijah Wood conveniently reprise their respective roles for the short prologue that sets up the film. Sixty years prior to the events of The Rings, powerful wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) tricks young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) into joining Thorin (Richard Armitage), head of the company of dwarves for a journey to reclaim his dwarf kingdom, located under the Lonely Mountain. Dragon Smaug has destroyed the kingdom and now sleeps upon its vast treasure.
Bilbo is more than reluctant to abandon the comforts of the Shire but eventually embarks on this adventure. He’s clearly the fish out of water and needs to work hard in order to gain acceptance and respect from the dwarves. Thorin is especially skeptic about the value of the Hobbit’s presence in his group but Gandalf insists that Bilbo has the potential to prove his worth. Many are the perils that the newly formed fellowship has to face on the way to the Lonely Mountain but the biggest threat is posed by the Orcs that decimated the dwarves back when the dragon destroyed their kingdom. Thorin has a personal vendetta to fulfill since the Orcs’ leader killed his father (the king dwarf) and the story builds up towards a final confrontation of sorts. This, in fact is only the first part of a new unnecessary trilogy.
Although the studio’s financial plan is understandable, the narrative most definitely wouldn’t require three films of almost three hours each to cover just one book. And this first installment already proves that stretching the running time doesn’t help to move the (repetitive) story along. Even the most anticipated sequence aka Bilbo’s first encounter with the ring and fan favorite Gollum (the always impeccable Andy Serkis) is milked beyond the purpose that it needs to serve. Praise is most definitely in order for Martin Freeman of Sherlock’s fame in the title role. He’s perfectly cast as young Bilbo, dispensing the character with the right dose of humor and sensibility. Unfortunately, his journey is far from unexpected…