On this film Peter Jackson, director and co producer, was in movie making heaven. This was a sequel to a wildly popular trilogy, he had a ton of money available, he could use all the CGI and New Zealand backdrop his heart could desire, and he could bring back popular stars for cameos. Ummm…
The result in the first half was really good. We get up close and personal with hobbits, dwarfs and wizards and we had some nice comic relief scattered through it.
In the second half Jackson’s “Inner Transformers” got the high ground and the show went to pure action, action, action, with only a brief pause for Bilbo and Gollum to meet each other and riddle.
So all in-all-it was good, but, I admit, I had hoped for better. Here are some details of what bothered me as I watched.
I read the book a couple times, but many decades ago. While I’ve forgotten a lot I did notice that Jackson has deviated from the book early in the movie by adding a new bad guy, the white orc, and by turning Radigast from a two paragraph aside into a major character. Orcs didn’t show up in Tolkien’s writings until Lord of the Rings. Tolkien added them in LOTR because he wanted bad-ass goblins. The Hobbit had goblins, and they were sneaky bad guys, not particularly powerful ones.
What adding the Orc is going to add to this movie trilogy story remains to be seen. I’m guessing he’s there to add some kind of continuity to the three films. Why ever he’s there, he’s inconsistent because if he’s ruling in Moria what’s he doing roaming the wilderness many days journey north of there? If he’s not ruling in Moria anymore, where is he based out of now, and why is he coming after Thorin now? It’s been decades since the humiliation. This meeting outside Shire seems to be coincidence, except that the White Orc is not talking as if it is one… inconsistent.
In the book Gandalf comes and goes. He is technically not part of this quest because he has a lot of other pots in the fire. This is why he invites Bilbo. This element of coming and going is lost in the movie, and I find it weakens Gandalf as an interesting character, the moving around was part of his being subtle and important.
Up until the dwarfs leave Rivendell the movie proceeds nicely. I like the settings and I liked the small scale adventures such as what they have with the trolls. The one problem that comes to mind in the first half is that these vagabond trolls have very powerful antique weapons in their small stash of cave loot. How did those end up there? It’s a small and forgivable problem, but I noticed it.
After leaving Rivendell Jackson gives us a triple feature of action: in the mountains, in the caves and in the forest. Each comes with crashing and smashing stuff and cliffhangers — my goodness how Jackson loves showing people dangling over empty space! The problem with the triple feature is that even as each is unfolding you know nothing will happen to the characters — this is story telling and they’ve been through this just minutes before and nothing happened. So by the third round of cliff hanging… yawn… the scene will end in some exciting way… yawn… and nothing will have changed.
Another issue for me personally is how much Jackson loves vertical in his settings. Everywhere was a hill or a ridge top or a steep-walled valley or a multi-story, multi-block cave setting — all very vertical. I’d love some horizontal in his movies for relief.
Jackson shows us innovative action scenes. He was particularly innovative in his goblin cave action scenes. He did a lot there I’d never seen before. But by then I was so tired of action I didn’t care.
In the book the ring is described as making a person invisible, not undetectable. In this movie Bilbo becomes completely undetectable by Gollum — whom the book describes as a being who has developed acute hearing and smell from all those years of living in the roots of mountains. In the book Bilbo has to dodge Gollum or kill him, but he makes that choice at a distance.
In the book there is some description of Smaug’s attack on Lonely Mountain and some description of a secret escape route. But the movie spends many minutes at the beginning on the attack. This left me wondering: Why didn’t the Lonely Mountain Minister of Defense have a better plan for repelling “Great Wyrm Attack”? These creatures were known to exist and not too far away. I don’t remember the book version on this so it may be an inconsistency in both.
In sum, the first half is a delightful movie that shows off some interesting characters in interesting ways. Jackson has fun with his settings, and puts in some innovative comedy. The second half is full of overbearing unrelenting action and is not nearly as interesting for a story-oriented buff like me.