On the heels of the success of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy is the first part of "The Hobbit" from Peter Jackson. While "the Lord of the Rings" was a natural trilogy sourced from three books written by J.R.R. Tolkien, the decision to turn the singular book for "The Hobbit" into three movies is somewhat of a mystery. The epic nature of the story and the vast vision of Peter Jackson certainly lends itself to expanding the story, but where "The Lord of the Rings" succeeded in telling a story and featured individual performances that stood on their own "The Hobbit" is muddled without a true lead and instead thirteen dwarfs.
I tend to believe that popular books and movie franchises have two types of fans. There are the people that read the books and want to see how the film is adapted for the screen; and then there are the people who are fans of the movies who haven't read the books. I fall in the latter category for the Tolkien franchise and enjoy the adventure that unfolds on the screen for the first time. Not knowing what will happen next adds another level when the adaptation is done well and treats the source material with the proper respect that Middle Earth deserves.
The story begins with a reluctant Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is approached by the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and then thirteen dwarfs led by the legendary warrior, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). Bilbo is swept into a quest to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of
Erebor from a dragon named Smaug. During the journey through Middle Earth the group is confronted by Trolls, Orcs and Goblins while also being assisted by elves which provide familiarity to the previous films with the return of Elrond (Hugo Weaving) and Galadriel (Cate Blanchett). Bilbo is separated from the group during the battle with the goblins and meets Gollum. It is here that Bilbo gains possession
of Gollum's "precious" ring and the two have a battle of wits by matching riddles (see answers below the trailer) to determine the fate of Bilbo.
(#1) This thing all things devours: Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats high mountain down.
(#2) Thirty white horses on a red hill, First they champ, Then they stamp, Then they stand still.
The Hobbit is a very visually impressive film, but what lacks is the lack of a true leading performance. With thirteen dwarfs in addition to Bilbo and Gandalf it just isn't clear who exactly is the important character to follow. Is it the Dwarf King Thorin or one of the others that are going to be the most important? Is it Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Nori, Dori or Ori that are the most important. Most of the actors are relatively unknown with the exception of James Nesbitt, but I may be in the minority on appreciating his previous performances. I know that Bilbo is supposed to be the lead, but nothing about Martin Freeman's performance really communicates that.
While Peter Jackson works well with CGI there seemed to be something slightly off with the quality in "The Hobbit" as it resulted in an appearance that was similar to what many complain about the "Star Wars" Episode I through III. This certainly brings the film short of what it could be and by expanding the story to three films results in too much attention given to minor details. All of this being said the film is still a lot of fun and is easily worthy of 4 Quacks. This film is truly an unexpected journey, and I cannot wait to see the desolation of Smaug in 2013 and then the return back to the Shire in 2014.
Riddle #1: Time
Riddle #2: Teeth