A smouldering dwarf. Who the hell thought a dwarf could smoulder? But in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield does, and how! I’m an Aragorn girl myself, but I have to say, the pulse did flutter a little every time Thorin pouted and glowered at the camera.
I’d read a few reviews of The Hobbit before going to see it. Everyone complained it was too long, many said it was a touch simple in its storytelling, that the characters were a bit flat and the thought of having to see two more hobbit films didn’t seem to fill anyone with much joy. I have a sneaking feeling that The Hobbit is going to be a lot like Lord of The Rings: by the time the third instalment comes around, it’ll feel like a bit of a drag. A beautiful drag, but still a bit of a drag. But that’s two years later. For now, we have The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and it, like The Fellowship of the Ring, is great fun.
The film is almost three hours long. Honestly, though, I didn’t realise that much time had passed. The Hobbit begins with Bilbo joining Gandalf and a company of dwarves led by Thorin ‘Hotstuff’ Oakenshield. The orcs are hunting them, they run into goblins under the Misty Mountains and the film ends with Bilbo becoming one of the dwarvish family. There are a few reasons The Hobbit works. One, for me, is pure nostalgia. It’s a return to the loveliness that was Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings movies. It’s a place where sunshine is a little bit warmer and yellower, where the darkness is more picturesque, where rabbits can outrun massive canine creatures. Here, little guys rule. How can you not love that world?
Another one of The Hobbit‘s strength is that it’s rather tight storytelling. Usually, if anyone said a film that’s 169 minutes long was “tight”, I’d thwack them with a heavy-bottomed saucepan. But The Hobbit is, by and large, not flabby. The initial bit with Ian Holm as Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo was entirely unnecessary, I thought. But from the moment Martin Freeman appears as Bilbo, nothing felt slack. Which brings me to the best part of The Hobbit: Martin Freeman. Thorin Hotstuff, played by Richard Armitage, is quite lovely to look at and I will admit, I loved his slow-mo stride towards the horrible, albino orc Azog. However, the person who keeps the film together is Freeman. He is perfect as Bilbo — funny, brave, adorable and just delightful. He delivers his lines beautifully, his pauses are pitched perfectly and he’s never over the top. If there’s anything unhobbity about him, then it’s the absence of a belly and the fact that he’s far from ordinary. I’m going to end up buying the dvd of this film just to see Freeman’s bits repeatedly and giggle.
It’s been a while since I read The Hobbit and I am not planning on re-reading it. (I’m one of those philistines who isn’t a great fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing. His imagination, on the other hand, is worth worship.) I do know, though, that The Hobbit isn’t entirely faithful to the book. Thorin and dwarves’ quest becomes one about reclaiming home in the film, whereas in the novel, the dwarves just wanted the gold and treasure that Smaug was hoarding. Thorin, as I’ve stressed earlier, is a hottie and a noble sort, whereas in the book, I remember him as a bumbling, greedy chap and a bit of an idiot. Jackson’s given quite a few of the dwarves a makeover so that the film isn’t just about hairy little men. Galadriel appears in Jackson’s The Hobbit, simply because Jackson loves Cate Blanchett. The dwarf-elf hostility is much sharper in the film than in the book just as Thorin’s reaction to Bilbo is much more hostile in the film. For some reason, Thranduil tilts his head like he’s suffering from spondylitis and rides, of all things, a moose. Radagast the Brown not only has a significant role, but also a chariot drawn by super-fast rabbits. There’s a bit near the end when Bilbo leaps into action (literally) to prevent Thorin from being beheaded, which is entirely a Hollywood version of hobbit behaviour.
But I’m not complaining. I much prefer seeing attractive dwarves and I’m hugely relieved Jackson found a way of making the idiotic bit in which Gandalf throws pinecones at orcs into something decidedly awesome.
Possibly because I loved what he did with Pan’s Labyrinth, I can’t help wondering how The Hobbit would have been had Guillermo del Toro directed it. It would probably have been darker, more layered and definitely scarier. Bits like the episode with the goblins under the Misty Mountains and Bilbo’s “game” of riddles with Gollum would probably have given us all the chills. Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth, even at its most disturbing, is a comfortable and charming fantasy while del Toro has an ability to thread menace into beauty. It would have been interesting, if not anything else. Then again, in a world where even an elementary school can be a site of mass murder, there’s nothing wrong with sunny, comforting fantasy. Especially when it stars an adorable hobbit and a smouldering dwarf.
I’m going to go and watch The Fellowship of the Ring now. Bless you, Peter Jackson.