LOTR (Lord of the Rings) fans around the world rejoice, director/writer Peter Jackson has done it again! Opting to give his ulcer another perforation, he’s a sucker for punishment, I must say. Shot at 48FPS (frames per second), which is twice the normal, this exquisite looking film looks more HD than HD, looking surreal as if shot real-time on video… or as if you’re watching it live through a window, take your pick.
Set some 60 years before the previous LOTR trilogy we already knew, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freedman), an ordinary hobbit living in the Shire is tricked by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) into hosting a raucous party for 12 dwarves and their leader – ever pissed-off and brooding Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Seems these dwarves have a serious problem: their land and riches were first usurped by an Orc army and then taken hostage by a huge fire-breathing dragon named Smaug, so they need a ‘burglar’ to steal it all back. Declining at first, Bilbo gradually accepts the dangerous job as a thief and sets out with the troop back to their home in the Lonely Mountains.
Similar to its predecessor films, the gang meet up with villainous Orcs and rendezvous at Rivendell, where they meet Elfin leader Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman the White (Christopher lee) from the prior LOTR movies. Gandalf reveals to them that there’s some nastiness afoot, but what could it be? An all-seeing eye? Hmmmm? Nawww!
Anyway, the dwarves long and arduous trek to the Lonely Mountains (wouldn’t it have been easier to just fly there on Gandalf’s giant eagles? Never mind.) is fraught with obstacles like giant hungry trolls, killer goblins, and one particularly evil Orc called Azog (that killed Thorin’s dad) that is after Thorin and will stop at nothing for vengeance. Right in the middle of all this, Bilbo gets separated and lands up in a cavern with… Gollum! Voiced “my precioussssssssss”)and “acted” again by Andy Serkis, the two play a deadly game of riddles just as Bilbo discovers the One Ring! There’s one more escape, one more battle, and then… we have to wait until part 2 of 3 next year. Drat!
Since there are two more parts to this magnum opus, this nearly three hour movie is chock full of long, drawn-out scenes. We get a lot of backstory (welcome back Elijah Wood and Ian Holm as Frodo and the older Bilbo in the opening scene) and quite a bit of fight sequences that pop in and out to keep you from yawning to much.
Act Three’s Bilbo vs Gollum is a treat as the two face off in a delicious game of riddles-to-the-death. Director Jackson really COULD have made a single film here or even a two-fer, but another trilogy? Can you say MONEY?? This first one feels long because of scenes and situations made up to get the dwarves in and out of trouble – again and again and again. Still, it’s fun to see a prequel to one of my favorite trilogy’s come back and I can’t wait for next year’s “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
THE HOBBIT (1977)
Rankin/Bass, makers of all those great Christmas stop-motion animated classics, way back in 1977, brought to TV a colorful cartoon version (unusual in its style as well) with an equally colorful musical score. Covering the same story, the voice talent was impressive for the day. Orson Bean as Bilbo Baggins, actor/director John Huston as Gandalf, Richard Boone as Smaug, Hans Conried as Thorin, and the great director Otto Preminger as The Elevnking. Quite the cast!
Yes, it’s a cartoon, but it still has much of the same dialog I heard in the movie, including the song, “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates”, which cracked me up. The Orc’s and Goblins look dramatically different as does Smaug which, silly enough, looks like a long-necked winged serpent with a cat’s head on it. Gollum even looks wrong, as compared to the LOTR movies we’ve all come to know and love. In this adaptation, Gollum looks like a giant brown frog. Weird. The battles are drawn fairly blood-free in light of the fact that children are the target audience, and you can clearly see the budget constraints as several scenes are re-used over again many times to save time and money.
In the end, Bilbo goes home with Gandalf with the small amount of money he’s awarded – plus that Ring, ya know. The cartoon was such a success, it spawned “The Return of the King” three years later…