Even the most enthusiastic and ardent fans acknowledged that filling a trilogy of three hour movies with a 285 page book would require padding with some additional material. Thus one of the big questions regarding The Hobbit is how does this new content fit? Hardcore fans will obviously state that it fits badly, although this is unfair as the edges between the story of The Hobbit and the additional work is neat and tidy. In fact it is how some of the ‘canonical’ content works that causes bigger issues.
With this dichotomy in mind it seems only fair to review the main narrative of The Hobbit and the additional material separately, although the climax of the film creates a head on jarring issue, which will be returned to later.
It must be noted that throughout the whole film the cinematography is stunning, set and costume design sublime, casting excellent and performances top notch. The viewer is immersed in Middle Earth from beginning to end and nothing stands out as even below average, let alone poor.
Firstly although a great deal of the new material added has been taken from various other Tolkien sources, for example The Silmarillion and Lord of the Rings itself, it is worth noting that it has been rewritten to tie it in more closely with the narrative of The Hobbit. With this in mind the whole backstory of Thorin is rewritten giving him a more important role in the original attack of Smaug and an appearance at battles where previously he was not present. However in the context of the movie as it lends weight and motive to the surprise appearance of Azog the Pale Orc and the hunter/hunted subplot. It appears then, that with this deeper, richer, darker edge added to the dwarves quest that Peter Jackson needed to re-add some lighter moments to what is originally a children’s story. To rectify this Radagast the Brown is given a spin, with some excellent clowning from Sylvester McCoy. However this lighthearted approach detracts from the danger the heroes find themselves in and jars slightly. It may be one thing to suspend belief on dragons, magic rings and mighty storm giants, it is quite another to believe a man can flee on a rabbit powered sled. This leads from danger to comedy far to quickly.
Regarding the rest of the additional material, this has been worked in to portray The Hobbit as a prequel to Lord of the Rings, which was never Tolkien’s intention. The entire film prior to the appearance of the excellent Martin Freeman bulks out back story and adds strong links to the film Fellowship of the Ring which work well for the movie franchise but less so for the Tolkien fan. The meeting between Sauroman, Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf is hinted at in the original and given depth and purpose here, again linking both trilogies deftly, although unnecessarily.
The use of the original material from The Hobbit does not stray much in content but slowly vears away in feel, which is disappointing as more care seems to have been given to characters and tone in the additional elements. The plot starts brightly and all thirteen dwarves are brilliantly portrayed, each with their own personality and life. The scenes at Bagend are a delight to behold with a wonderful mix of comedy and drama from the dwarven brethren. However from this point of the direction goes slightly awry. In the original text the dwarves, at this point, are portrayed as slightly useless and slightly cowardly expecting either Gandalf or Bilbo to get them out of trouble. The party in the book, who don’t find trolls stealing their ponies in the first place, sent Bilbo to find food alone. They certainly didn’t charge in heroically to try and save him and there was no battle, and even then it is Gandalf alone who saves them. Again under the Misty Mountains it is Gandalf and Thorin alone who successfully battle the goblins while the others flee in general panic, losing Bilbo on the way. Book ending the action packed, if unnecessary, battle under the Misty Mountains, comes two of the films great highlights; the storm giant battle and Gollum challenging Bilbo to a game of riddles. This second scene shows how CGI, special effects, a good script and two talented actors can create a moment of genuine thrills.
Having escaped the dwarves the strangest deviation from the original text occurs. The book has the troop climbing trees to escape the wargs, as in the film, and then it is a party of goblins who set fire to them in an attempt to capture or kill the heroes. Such is their predicament that even Gandalf is as a loss on how to save them all. The eagles turn up in the nick of time, under their own volition, to save the day. There is no battle, no head to head between Thorin and Azog (or any other villain) and Bilbo certainly does not get stuck into any battle. This segment, in addition to the scenes under the Misty Mountains and battling trolls portrays both Bilbo and the dwarves in a more heroic light than they ought to be at this point in the narrative. Part of the direction in the book of The Hobbit is one of growth and learning each experience to reach the point that their film counterparts seem to have reached already.
It will be a fascinating and interesting ride to see how this trilogy plays out, as over one third of the book has already been told and the new elements added bring a new experience to even the most jaded viewer. It has been a strong, if not spectacular start, and could yet become something special.