I did indeed see The Hobbit this weekend in all its 48 frames per second 3D glory, and all I can really say is that I can’t recommend it enough. Sure, there will be comparisons to the Lord of the Rings movies; this simply can’t be avoided, as they set the bar over a decade ago when it comes to adapting fantasy epics to the big screen, but while both The Hobbit and LotR are set in Middle-Earth, it’s like comparing pineapples to grapefruit.
Anyone who’s read both source texts can tell you that the tone and scope of LotR is vastly different than that of its predecessor. While The Hobbit is at its core an adventure tale – quite literally a “there and back again” story that teaches readers moral lessons like embracing mercy, courage. and curiosity and avoiding obsession, greed, and vengeance, LotR is your typical High Fantasy Epic, filled with the kind of action and imagery that you’d expect in the Book of Revelation rather than a book of Aesop’s Fables. This is of course a bit of a generalization and oversimplification of the themes and tropes present in LotR, but the scope and scale of the text is vast and terribly adult in comparison to The Hobbit, a tale originally written by Professor Tolkien as a children’s book.
I am relieved to report that this very important distinction between The Hobbit and the LotR trilogy is made by Peter Jackson et al. in the new film. The movie captures the warmth and charm of the source material in such a way that it embraces the spirit of adventure and discovery that’s preset in the original pages while also expanding the narrative in ways that tie the narrative – Bilbo’s “origin story” as it were – into the larger story of Middle-Earth. The addition of scenes and characters in this film that were only mentioned in passing in the text or not mentioned at all except in an appendix somewhere might be seen as an attempt by the filmmakers to “pad” the story in order to split it up into three parts, but I found the tone of the additions close enough to not be jarring; in fact, I welcomed these glimpses into the meta-narrative, a sort of filling in the gaps that will make the eventual transition from this soon-to-be trilogy into the existing LotR films nearly seamless – a feat that sadly eluded George Lucas when he brought us the abomination that was the Star Wars prequel trilogy.
The absolute stand-out this time around has to be the special effects technology, especially in comparison to how things were 11 years ago when Fellowship of the Ring hit theaters. That isn’t to say that the performances of the actors aren’t phenomenal – Martin Freeman as Bilbo is spot-on – but now technology has advanced so far as to make tricks like forced perspective, digitally shrinking and growing actors to hobbit or dwarf size in comparison to human size, and green-screening creatures like orcs, trolls, and Gollum into live-action shots almost imperceptible; I found myself forgetting that these aren’t human actors standing on phone books to look taller or kneeling down to look shorter. It makes suspension of disbelief easy.
Except for that one dwarf with nothing but peach fuzz. That just freaks me right out.