Let this be said: Peter Jackson is a master filmmaker, the consummate modern director, fully in control of his medium, maximizing his use of makeup, costumes, locations, sets, cinematography, sound, visual effects, and getting the best quality minutes from his actors. His 21st century group of films, being four Tolkiens, King Kong and Lovely Bones thus far, epitomize his total utilization of cinema and make him wholly unmatched, save perhaps a James Cameron or other rare contemporary auteur; otherwise, he is peerless.
But he needs an editor. And a better casting director. Among other things. And remember, there are two more Tolkien films still to come.
For the first edition of The Hobbit, a welcomed return to Middle-earth, we are along for a journey of splendor with young Bilbo and Gandalf joining a team of 13 dwarves on a quest to claim their mountain kingdom and treasure being lorded over by a demonic dragon. Simple enough. We see faces familiar from the three previous Middle-earth installments to sweeten the pot. But in the 169 minute feast, we are really only treated to a best-case scenario of about 100 minutes of delicious material. Alas, in the manner in which Jackson is set up to make his films, with his own life partner and another friend as co-writers and producers, in his own studio, with his own digital shingle and prosthetics-props-weapons-armour laboratory all existing in house, he is lord of his own castle.
Disregarding the 48 frames-per-second situation (which must be experienced and evaluated on an individual basis for a fair assessment and will have its due adjustment period), Jackson’s only real flaws are that given the way in which he makes his films, according to his own empire’s self-established rules, he doesn’t appear to have any inner restraint or outside voice of reason to check his decisions. And chief among those decisions are in the editorial stages and in casting key roles. No aspersion is meant to be cast on Martin Freeman as a performer or person, but in this case, he makes for a bland Bilbo. He is just too one-note, indifferent and passive to conjure an interesting lead character. One could say the same for Elijah Wood in the first trilogy, though he became an acquired taste. Perhaps Freeman will be as well, but thus far, his selection looks like a misfire. Of course, that would be letting Jackson off too easy. In his personal kingdom, which mirrors the alternate reality of Middle-earth, his is the voice of God. In King Kong, that voice chose three wholly inappropriate lead actors, a move which did not in and of itself sink that film, but, coupled with overlength, an ongoing Jackson problem, was an issue from which Kong himself could not rescue that project. Lovely Bones had casting and length issues as well, and installing Freeman for three films, ostensibly pushing us into another nine hours of territory we have already visited, could be yet another crucially flawed Jackson casting decision.
And about those 13 dwarves — do we really need 13? Forgetting for a time that The Hobbit is based on a book with legions of fans, after the movie introduces us to the fifth and sixth dwarf on this journey, we either lose interest or get confused. Let’s cut that number to seven (get it?) and be done with it. We know that there is a lead dwarf, a funny one, a fat one, but after a few more, we’re over the whole situation. If someone told you that the dwarves had not one but two songs in this film, would you believe him? Cut the songs (one of which is actually done during a meal cleanup that bridges on “Whistle While You Work”), and you already have a better film.