Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) just wants to be left alone to blow smoke rings and eat a healthy six meals a day. What he doesn’t want is a flood of dwarves raiding his larder and a wizard telling him to be more like his younger, adventurous self. Despite this, less than twenty four hours after Gandalf (Ian McKellen) scratches a mysterious symbol into his newly painted door, Bilbo is off, without a handkerchief, on a quest to help the dwarves reclaim their home from the grips of a dragon.
That is the basic plot of The Hobbit (book). The Hobbit (film) is still essentially this at heart, but, much like a real heart, whilst integral in keeping something alive, only makes up a small part of the bigger picture. The original book was penned with children in mind, and is therefore less dark in terms of content and a whole lot more twee than its sequel. It is also significantly shorter.
So, keeping in mind that you could pretty much use The Hobbit as a bookmark for The Lord of the Rings, it is interesting then that it is also going to be split into three instalments at around three hours each.
In order to accomplish this, the novel has been padded out with material from the vast range of supplementary texts Tolkien produced about the history of Middle Earth, including The Silmarillion and the appendices to The Return of The King. The first film, The Hobbit: an unexpected journey, in particular draws on The Quest of Erebor from the posthumously released Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. This additional material gives greater background to the dwarves’ mission, and paints a more detailed picture of the Middle Earth which existed sixty years prior to Frodo leaving The Shire. It’s absorbing and interesting and I loved every minute (with the exception of the thirty minutes of back and forth banter between Bilbo and Gollum. Important exposition: yes. Frustratingly drawn out: also yes).
The constant nods to The Lord of the Rings and appearances from Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis and a host of others makes me happy in the way I get from watching the bit in Back to the Future II where Marty is visiting the scene from the first film, and will probably appeal to other similarly well-adjusted level 7 Tolkien dorks. On the flip side, however, this also makes the film less accessible to those completely new to the series. The plot will still make sense, but will appear to have a few holes. Plus they won’t be able to gasp when significant plot points are introduced and will probably be all “what is a Bagginses?”
Peter Jackson is clearly trying to make The Hobbit as epic as The Lord of the Rings, which is going to cause a divide in opinions. To me, the added depth adds to the original story despite being a bit at odds with the tone of the book.
Tolkien’s supplementary texts can probably never be films in their own right. Whilst being filled with interesting back story to well loved characters and places, they are also densely packed with at times stiflingly detailed fantasy concepts and a lot of them remain unfinished, having been published posthumously. It’s a shame. Jackson has seized on what is a unique opportunity to bring it to the screen through enriching the Hobbit with additional lore, which I think is a very good thing.
The Hobbit is not what you think it is going to be if you go in expecting the book. Instead, it is a film akin to The Lord of the Rings in terms of scope, cinematography and feel and which keeps the essence and humour of the novel. Like Tolkien says in the book itself “there is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.”