It’s the first of three films to be fashioned from the professor’s novel of faux-medieval fantasies chronicling how a magic ring (‘the precious’) came to be in the possession of a mere hairy-footed Hobbit in the first place. The movie may be grand, but lots of its folk are tiny, which makes for unusual juxtapositions, both odd and amusing. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman, squished) is a Hobbit living the pipe-and-slippers dream in the Shire.
One evening, the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen, towering over the artificially shortened Freeman) and 13 itinerant, hungry dwarves – many of them with a knack for annoying the audience – come knocking. They persuade Bilbo to join them on a quest to win back their lost kingdom from a dragon. So begins a journey across wild terrain and back-to-back run-ins with larger, more vicious creatures
Many have wondered exactly how Jackson and his co-writers have found three movies in the relatively slim pickings of Tolkien’s early novel (compared to the later novels of the Rings trilogy). The answer is that he opts for the detail and pacing of an extended TV series – an approach that has its drawbacks over more than two-and-a-half hours. The initial coming-together of Bilbo and the dwarves feels overlong, and the start of their journey is sluggish and lacks a vital sense of forward momentum.
It’s during the film’s final third that, at last, we feel a true sense of peril and the dwarves’ journey starts to feel energetic and purposeful. The big turning point is the entry of Gollum. The more dark and sinister things become, the more The Hobbit becomes compelling as a story, and achieves a tone and look that feel right. Thank Hobbitses for Gollum, then. And thank Hobbitses for the film’s more involving later scenes, including a showdown between two stone giants and a run-in with a villain who gives Jabba the Hutt a run for his money in the beauty stakes. It’s scenes such as these that leave you looking forward to the next one rather than wanting to strangle one of the more annoying dwarves – or at least bury him in a hole in The Shire.