Many uncountable years ago, Dwarf King Thráin ruled a beautiful and complex underground city of Erebor, carved inside the Lonely Mountain. For too many years, his grandson Thorin watched as Thráin’s want for gold and jewels became an obsession, and too much was collected and kept inside the mountain. How much gold is too much? When it attracts the one creature with a hunger for gold greater than any – a dragon. Specifically, a dragon named Smaug. (Think of the “ou” in “house” to pronounce “Smaug”) When the dragon arrives, most of the dwarves are killed, incinerated, and the mountain kingdom taken by Smaug. King Thráin’s son, Thorin, and others were scattered around Middle Earth until the time was right for the heir to assemble whatever willing dwarves he could find for an “adventure” to reclaim Erebor. If you happen to know what a Balrog is, then you’ll know that what happened at Erebor wasn’t the first time that dwarves had suffered dearly because of their greed. (I’m sure I got something wrong in there. If not, then something yet to come.)
The story of The Hobbit opens momentarily at the end, which is actually only moments before the very beginning of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (the first one) when Gandalf (Ian McKellen) arrives for Bilbo’s farewell party. Frodo (still Elijah Wood) wants to read Bilbo’s story, but it’s not ready so Frodo instead runs out to greet Gandalf as he arrives in the shire. In LOTR I, after the party, Bilbo gives Gandalf the One Ring of Power.
The Hobbit (which is Bilbo, which is Martin Freeman) is about two significant events: the above story of reclaiming Erebor and how Bilbo managed to find the Ring. Bilbo is writing his account of the “adventure” of how he came upon the One Ring of Power. That story, which is this story, is called “There and Back Again” and begins when a strange, grey wizard happens upon Bilbo’s front gate to ask if he’d like to go on an “adventure.” Hobbits are known for cooking stews, tending gardens, and entertaining friends – not for adventures. After Bilbo makes it clear, mostly clear that he’s not interested in any adventures, Gandalf leaves, but not without scratching a scrawled mark on Bilbo’s door.
That mark alerts a company of a dozen dwarves plus one to appear for a dinner at which they discuss their plans to return to Erebor and take back their home – and their gold – inside the Lonely Mountain. The only catch is Smaug, the dragon that chased them from their home – and their gold – many years prior. If Bilbo hadn’t already been certain he would have no part of the adventure, he is even more certain to have no part when presented with a contract informing him of possible “laceration, evisceration, incineration.” Despite a haunting and memorable song “Misty Mountains” sung by the dwarves, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), Bilbo sticks by his rejection, prompting the wizard and dwarves to leave. What’s not exactly clear is why Bilbo changes his mind the next morning as is shown in a memorable moment when the large-footed Hobbit sprints (as best a Hobbit can sprint) through the Shire proclaiming “I’m going on an adventure!”
From this point on, there are five things we have to accept.
1. This is the first of three movies, so you’re going to walk out slightly disappointed at having to wait until June of 2014 before it’s all over.
2. That the shorter-than-average troupe is going to get into what seems like an endless and insurmountable string of death-defying predicaments.
3. That Gandalf is going to save them from several of those predicaments.
4. That Gandalf could probably just finish the mission all by himself.
5. That dwarves can kick the crap out of creatures two, three, and four times their size.
If you can nail that down, then The Hobbit rocks. If not, then go see Lincoln.
To explain all of the scenes that follow would be a waste of time. There are numerous creatures (orcs, goblins, wargs, trolls, etc.) that want to slice, dice, fry, roast, boil, sauté, and eat the dwarves. There are some that want to just lop off their heads. There is one that just wants Thorin’s head. And there are mountain creatures – made of mountain – that kick the crap out of each other as if it was a Flintstone’s version of Jackass. Although it runs 2:49, there isn’t a moment to spare to run to the bathroom, so either drink your soda slowly or wear a diaper.
While the guts of the story is about the return to Erebor, there’s no doubt that the most significant part of the film is when Bilbo meets Gollum. The “Riddles in the Dark” scene plays out wonderfully and sparked more laughs than I expected from the audience. It is a younger, slightly younger Gollum still played by Andy Serkis, and played even better with more innocence – until Bilbo escapes with the ring of course.
Devout Hobbitorians (?) will complain that it strays too much from the book. There are added moments to create a more prominent connection between The Hobbit and LOTR, such as references to the Witch King, the Ringwraiths, and Sauron, but those moments seemed enjoyable regardless of the purity of the book. I didn’t like the contemporary dialogue, but I understand marketing. I also didn’t like how much humor was mixed into the dialogue, such as the joke made when Thorin slices open the goblin king’s belly in order to cross the bridge and escape from inside the mountain. However, it’s all good. Uh, I mean great. Greater than great.