It may be hard to believe, but it has been almost nine years since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings: Return of the King won the Oscar for Best Picture. In that time, there have been lawsuits, financial problems, and change of directors in trying to bring The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to the screen. And though it has the same pedigree as LOTR (directed by Jackson, written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Jackson, and music by Howard Shore), The Hobbit is not nearly as successful. To be fair, LOTR—one of the greatest film trilogies of all time—sets the bar very high. But as the subject matter and story structure are more simplistic, more playful, not to mention its 2 hours and 45 minute running time, Hobbit pales in comparison. (My grade: B.)
Yet for people who’ve read the book and/or seen the 1970’s animated version, there are many additions/changes. Here are few things that will help you understand and enjoy The Hobbit even more.
1. A lot has already been written about 48 FPS and 3D. (For a quick primer, check out the piece in yesterday’s New York Times.) But if you can, see it in this format. It isn’t perfect (the too-clean, too-crisp imagery often works against the special effects—making scenes video game like), but it is astonishing. Lacking the blur and drag of usual 3D flicks, the 3D no longer feels like an embellishment. Rather, it’s an immersive, groundbreaking film-going experience. For a list of theaters playing it in 48 FPS/3D, click here.
2. Along with Bilbo and Gandalf, there are 13 dwarves going on the journey: Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori, and the dwarf king Thorin. Other than Thorin, knowing who is who isn’t important.
3. Radagast the Brown, who has a special affinity for wildlife, is one of five wizards in Middle Earth (the others include Gandalf the Grey and Saruman the White). Only mentioned in passing in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, he plays a greater role in Jackson’s version. And is pulled around by a sleigh of rabbits.
4. When The Return of the King was published in 1955, it contained six appendices that described background and the history of Middle Earth: Dwarves, Saruman, and the rise of the Necromancer (who will eventually become the ultimate baddy of LOTR). Using these, as well as some narrative inventions, Jackson pads the 300-plus, single novel The Hobbit to create a movie trilogy: An Unexpected Journey, The Desolation of Smaug, and There and Back Again. S0 if you read The Hobbit and don’t remember a certain scene, it’s from the appendices (or the creators’ invention).
5. Many familiar faces from LOTR will appear: Elijah Wood, Cate Blanchett, and Hugo Weaving, to name a few. But none are as welcome as Andy Serkis as Gollum. The scene between him and Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is the true highlight. And, hopefully, will lead to Serkis receiving a long overdue Oscar nomination.