Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is thinking back over his life, and decides he should really set the biggest adventure of his life down on paper, for the ages, or at least for the perusal of his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood). It happened sixty years ago when Bilbo was a much younger hobbit (Martin Freeman), though what he did not know at the time was that there was a history to what was about to befall him. That was to do with the dwarves, who had lost their homeland in a battle with the orcs thanks in part to their hoarding of the gold and gemstones they mined: when the dragon Smaug heard of it, he knew it had to be his and his alone...
J.R.R. Tolkein's classic children's story The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, had seen a few adaptations down the years, but it was the book's big brother The Lord of the Rings which often received the most attention, and so it was when at the turn of the millennium director Peter Jackson created the award-winning and hugely successful versions in blockbusting movie form. Ever since the last of that trilogy, audiences had been wondering when we'd get to see his version of The Hobbit, and up until its eventual arrival at Christmas of 2012 it was touch and go whether it would even get finished, with the phrase "development hell" oft-mentioned in connection with it.
Even when it was finally being filmed, controversy dogged the makers, with accusations that the production was massively racist or was slaughtering animals hither and thither on one hand, and moans that the decision to make what was a far shorter book than any of the Lord of the Rings tomes into a trilogy as well was an act of greed on the part of Jackson and company on the other. Time and again it was asked, did this truly need to be three movies when, for example, the Rankin Bass television cartoon of over thirty years before had gotten it all over with in a fraction of that time. Surely the results here would be pointlessly bloated and dragged out way past the interest of any audience?
The answer to that was a definite maybe, because in a film landscape where it was seeming as if there were fewer and fewer sure things in the blockbuster domain, the first instalment of The Hobbit made a pretty penny, confirming that financially if not artistically this had been a very good idea. Yet the issues some had were valid: the scenes where the original book were presented tended to be more effective than the business introduced from Tolkein's other works intended to make this more reminiscent of Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. It would have been better pitched to younger audiences if they wanted the fairy tale spirit of Bilbo's adventures captured, as it was there was all too often the sense of trying to be all things to all people, assuming those people loved special effects.
If the phrase "Thorin sits down and starts singing about gold" meant anything to you, you'd likely be old enough to recall the ZX Spectrum adaptation of The Hobbit, a notoriously difficult computer game (not least thanks to all the glitches) that spun the plot out into an adventure with you as Bilbo, typing in commands to propel the action along. In many ways, that early eighties computer era Hobbit was owed something by Jackson's epic, and not only because now Baggins' ordeals were looking more like a first person shooter than they were faithful to the bedtime story Tolkein had in mind. In the space many other filmmakers would have taken to tell the whole yarn, here we were a third of the way through, stretching out what could have been short and sweet.
And yet, for all the legitimacy of the grumblings, Jackson was skilled enough to have a decent idea of making the most of with the material at hand. It may well have been a bumpier ride (or more accurately, an unsteadier walk) than his work on The Lord of the Rings, but it was never boring; some complained the opening scenes took too long to get going, but the same was true of Tolkein's chapter one, and both established the desire for a place to call home, be it warm and cosy like Bilbo's hobbit-hole, or a land of your very own as the dwarves yearn for. Highlights abounded, with Sylvester McCoy's wizard Radagast offering nudges in the ribs for the stoners and Barry Humphries recalling Jabba the Hutt (he even has his own cackling Salacious Crumb) as the leader of the goblins, and as ever Ian McKellen made the most of Gandalf, wise, warm, but manipulative and seeing a bigger picture. The best part was hearing Andy Serkis inquire "What has it got in its pocketses?" as Gollum, proof that for all its overindulgence, The Hobbit got it right fairly often. Music by Howard Shore.
Hugely talented New Zealand director best known today for his Lord of the Rings adaptations. Started out making inventive, entertaining gore comedies like Bad Taste and Braindead, while his adult Muppet-spoof Meet the Feebles was a true one-off. Jackson's powerful murder drama Heavenly Creatures was his breakthrough as a more 'serious' filmmaker, and if horror comedy The Frighteners was a bit of a disappoinment, then his epic The Lord Of The Rings trilogy - Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were often breathtaking interpretations of Tolkien's books. 2005's blockbuster King Kong saw Jackson finally realise his dream of updating his all-time favourite film, but literary adaptation The Lovely Bones won him little respect. In 2012 he returned to Middle Earth with the three-part epic The Hobbit and in 2018 directed acclaimed WWI doc They Shall Not Grow Old.