A pale, balding creature stares through the screen with blue saucer eyes. He is trying to answer a riddle told by Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit attempting to escape an underground maze with a battle of wits. It’s the emotional high point of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” as this violent but somehow endearing character eventually realizes that Baggins stole his precious ring. He flies into a panicked rage, beating himself up emotionally and threatening the hobbit.
Unfortunately this captivating character is not the protagonist of the film. He does not appear until late in the movie, barely rousing me after nearly two hours of slow storytelling. I read “The Hobbit” as a young child, but remember little. Looking for a light film with rolling country scenery, I decided to journey into the shire once more and check out the movie.
Baggins, a shy homebody who decides to go on an adventure after an elderly wizard boosts his ego, is the story's main character. Martin Freeman plays him well, using subtle tics like wringing his hands to physically express discomfort and nerves.
Baggins joins a band of dwarves on a quest to reclaim their home. On the way, they battle myriad roadblocks, or rather, myriad bands of identical beige monsters. Are they trolls? Orcs? Goblins? Are these species interchangeable? The jury is still out.
The plot gets interesting late in the game, when Baggins discovers he has acquired a sort of medieval lightsaber. It directs the group of adventurers into a cavern that is aesthetically part Tim Burton, part Hayao Miyazaki. Ominous, bulbous creatures shuffle around on dimly lit ledges connected by ziplines. It’s visually impeccable.
At this point, Baggins accidentally splits from the group and finds himself alone with the ring-guarding creature. Eventually triumphant at mind games, he escapes and rejoins the dwarves.
After another scuffle or two—it’s hard to keep count of the rapid-fire action scenes packed into the last third of the movie as if to make up for its lackluster start—Baggins and the dwarves spy home in the distance. Apparently it will take them two more movies to get there. If I were better versed in Middle Earth, I might eagerly await the resolution to the story. Instead I wish Jackson luck with stretching the journey out for another six hours.