I heard a lot of negative stuff about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey before I saw it, and so I lowered my expectations pretty significantly before we arrived at the theater.
It was probably overlong, from what I’d heard, and stupidly pandering to 3-D and gimmickiness with its heightened frame rate of 48 frames-per-second. I would see it that way, as Peter Jackson intended, but I would be bored throughout. But I loved The Lord of the Rings, so I would give it a chance, even if I couldn’t manage to give it the benefit of the doubt.
However, I found the weaknesses of The Hobbit to be greatly exaggerated. In fact, despite the movie clocking in at just under three hours, I had a great time and found myself riveted throughout.
I’ve talked with several people about the experience of The Hobbit, and their opinions are largely mixed. A lot of people were bored with the first act, found the high frame rate ugly to look at, and disliked other features as well. I didn’t; I liked all those things. But one of the more telling criticisms I heard from others was how much The Hobbit was like The Fellowship of the Ring — beyond capturing the same tone and maybe even paying homage, down to shots that felt lifted from the first film and transplanted into the second.
Hard to deny that criticism, really, because it’s pretty dead-on. Hobbit looks quite a bit like Fellowship in some key moments. I was forgiving my first time through because Fellowship is far and away my favorite of the Lord of the Rings films and ranks highly on my all-time favorites list. I love that movie: I love its sense of adventure and exploration, I love the innocence its characters embody and the fear they face, I love how the story ramps up and how dark it all is when it ends. The Hobbit conjures a number of these feelings as well, beautifully, and while I doubted I’d be impressed by revisiting The Shire, I found immediately that the sense of mystery and expectation had returned.
The Hobbit is not my favorite book. I read it when I was young, hit the bit about Smaug and Lake Town, and found it utterly disappointing from then on. But I think Peter Jackson’s take pulls life out of J.R.R. Tolkein’s works very well — not just through action and combat, but through the more human moments that really elevate the characters. I have a deeper respect and understanding of Gandalf now; Bilbo, as a characters, is very compelling as well.
So I’m overall very positive on The Hobbit. I had a great time, I loved the look of the movie, and I’m excited for two more films — much more than I thought I would be. It’s hard to really speak to some other people’s more negative responses to the movie, and I’m hesitant to blame some kind of phantom cynicism, or a frustration with seeing old tricks again, or a misunderstanding of what The Hobbit fundamentally is (a children’s movie). A few people and their reactions seem to suffer from these issues, but not most or even many.
Maybe on a second viewing, I can be a little more critical. My first time through The Hobbit, however, was one of the best movie-going experiences I’ve had a in a long time. See it. See it in 3-D. See it at the high frame rate. If you don’t like it, you can blame me (no refunds, though) — I’m willing to take flak for it on the chance that you’ll have as great a time losing yourself in the magic of Middle-earth that I did.
Oh hey! Co-writer best friend Nick Hurwitch, who shares half the glory of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, also wrote The Unofficial Hobbit Trivia Challenge. If you like hobbits, you should get it. Link here.