Is Peter Jackson pissing off his core fans? Warning: There are spoilers in this review. Turn back now if you wish to remain unspoiled.
As a teen growing up on Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Garth Nix, I came late to the Middle Earth party. J.R.R. Tolkien is the undisputed fantasy king, but his writing style is an acquired taste. To me, it's intimidating at best and actively hostile at worst. So when Peter Jackson turned Lord of the Rings into a movie trilogy, I was one of many sci-ﬁ/fantasy fans ecstatic to ﬁnally have a medium where I could wallow in the full scope of the Tolkien world without having to wade through its creator's turgid prose. The ﬁlms became Tolkien for me and I loved them, reveling in the nerd paradise the three movies created.
I expected the same of The Hobbit; that while fans of the book might gripe about Jackson's fidelity to a slim childrenʼs novel, I assumed that for the rest of us nerds not of the Tolkien branch, the ride would be just as fun this time around.
I assumed wrong.
The film's problems show themselves almost immediately. In 3-D and at 48 frames per second, Ian Holm in the role of the elderly Bilbo Baggins stands out against a backdrop, seemingly superimposed over it instead of part of it. Throughout the ﬁlm, the human actors continue to look as though theyʼd wandered in front of a green screen of the most amazing video game scenery ever filmed. At the same time, the problem makes the costumes, visual effects, and CGI creatures appear B-budget. Words cannot state how much this draws one out of the ﬁlm.
Of course, there are times when you can almost ignore the jarring appearance thanks to strong performances by both the returning cast and Martin Freeman as Bilbo and Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield. Totally compelling are the push-and-pull conversations Bilbo has with Gandalf and the Dwarves; the quiet sense of homesickness and helplessness when the Dwarven company speak (or sing) of their lost land; the delightful scene where Gandalf is taken down a peg in front of his superior, making him more human, for lack of a better word. Galadrielʼs subtly suggestive conversation with Gandalf leaves one wondering how many times theyʼve done the Middle Earth equivalent of hooking up and what that might entail. The whole sequence toward the end of the ﬁlm where Bilbo and Gollum interact is one of the best bits of acting this year.