Lush and soaring visuals mark Peter Jackson’s newest addition to the J.R.R. Tolkien library. The Hobbit is the story of Bilbo Baggins, his adventures embarking on an unexpected journey, and his discovery of the One Ring. New Zealand once again provides a gorgeous backdrop with brilliant green hills, snow-capped mountains, and sparkling falls. Jackson capitalizes on the natural beauty of his home. He also demonstrates his vision and attention to detail when bringing Tolkien’s world to life. A single phrase in the novel, “a tremendous goblin with a huge head”, becomes an enormous putty-colored creature with stubby arms and legs, a large misshapen head atop a stout body, and protruding bulbous chin complete with wart. Seeing this character evokes a visceral response from the audience and immediately transmits the danger to Bilbo and his companions.
Sharp humor and snappy dialogue mark the interactions of Bilbo, Gandalf, and the company of dwarves. Interactions that easily could be commonplace capture the attention and intellect of the audience through one-liners, sarcasm, and sheer physical comedy.
Having read the Hobbit, I wondered how Jackson planned to stretch the novel to support three movies. He accomplishes this by supplementing the novel with supporting materials drawn from other Tolkien works. Specifically, he seems to pull from the Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales to add to the texture of Middle Earth. We meet Radagast, witness a council of wizards and elves, and see the shadow of Mordor begin to grow. The histories of key characters are explained to add depth. For those whose experience with Tolkien is defined by Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the director does a good job of anchoring his newest film in familiar surroundings.
Tolkien purists may be disturbed, as I was, by one sharp departure from Tolkien canon. Without going into detail, a major plot point which drives action in the film seems to have been created by Jackson and team. It makes good cinema but deviates sharply from the book. Also, the foreshadowing of the One Ring and the rise of Mordor woven throughout the film far exceeds the single interaction between Bilbo and Gollum portrayed in the book.
If you enjoyed Lord of the Rings, you don’t want to miss The Hobbit. I went into the movie with low expectations, thinking Jackson would not have enough material to keep the story from dragging. I was wrong. I laughed, gasped, and sat forward in my seat right up to the closing credits. The one big detractor for me was the creative plot point added to the film. I am a purist – but once I accepted that it was there, Jackson pulled it off.