85 / 100
Watchable Minutes : 90 minutes is the perfect run time for a scaled down version of a 300 page story. All the large story beats are captured here and there’s not a wasted frame (because the budget on this was so tight).
Movie or Film : The Hobbit is a movie adaptation of the beloved novel of the same name. There’s the traditional good vs evil ingredients in this roughly animated adaptation, but it’s still just a movie for entertainment.
- Run time : 1 hr 30 minutes
- Studio : Rankin/Bass
- Director : Jules Bass and Arthur Bankin, Jr
- Where to Watch : Prime Video ($)
A quiet and unadventurous hobbit named Bilbo Baggins lives in his comofortable home in the Shire and takes great care to never do anything too exciting until one day he is greeted by Gandalf the Grey on his doorstep. Gandalf has been seeking a burgalar to accompany his band of dwarves on their quest and has identified Bilbo as the right person for the job. A hidden longing for adventure awakens in Bilbo and he is soon swept up in a journey that will end in fortune or ruin for the dwarves he travels with.
The live-action Hobbit trilogy from the mid-2010s is what many consider to be one of the largest disappointments in the Lord of the Rings filmography. The trilogy averages a 7.6 out of 10 on IMDb, which is not a bad score by any means. The problem that many viewers have, myself included, is that it doesn’t measure up to the scale or quality of Fellowship, Two Towers, or Return of the King. It would be difficult to name more than one or two categories where the Hobbit trilogy matches the original trilogy in quality, let alone exceeds it. Chief complaints include the decision to split a 300-page novel into 3 two and a half-hour long movies, the exile of Guillermo Del Toro from the director’s chair, and the studio interference in the script to include characters and arcs that were poorly constructed. Many fans have attempted to recut this trilogy into a more lore-friendly version that aligns with the story in a more concise way, but these fan edits often clock in at over 4 hours long.
However, if you don’t have the attention span or time to spare for such a long sitting (who can blame you?) it is worth noting that there are other versions of the Lord of the Rings universe that exists in animated form. For a more digestible and succinct story, fans of the literature may want to consider The Hobbit from 1977 directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Bankin, Jr. starring Orson Bean and John Huston.
The Hobbit 1977 is a short and sweet version of the classic novel by JRR Tolkien. Clocking in at 90 minutes, there isn’t a lot of time to show off large sweeping landscapes and impressive visuals. By that same logic, it is difficult to cram in 300 pages worth of material into a 90 minute run time and not suffer from pacing issues or the elimination of key story events. The roughly animated movie suffers from the aforementioned pacing issues by quickly moving from story beat to story beat with little to no time to breathe in between. The characters seem to jump from one situation to the next with little explanation as to how or why and is often just hand waved away by the spectacle of the next event. As for content that is omitted, the entire Beorn sequence is missing along with several key events in Mirkwood and the Arkenstone gem conflict. Each of these omissions would be immediately noticed by long-time fans, but to the casual or first-time watcher, nothing would seem amiss. The fact that the story still has enough content to stand on its own is what makes this version of The Hobbit so enjoyable.
For each rushed or eliminated aspect of the story, there is a lovingly crafted and detail-oriented scene that truly encapsulates the magic of Middle Earth. For example, the Riddles in the Dark sequence with Gollum is very accurate to the book. The same goes for the scenes where Bilbo and Smaug battle with words atop the pile of dwarven gold. And filling the gaps between scenes is the classic old-school cool soundtrack complete with dwarven and goblin melodies with deep and hearty voices that fit the tone of Middle Earth nicely.
While the music and most story elements are pleasant and well-intentioned, the visuals and rough animation leave much to be desired. There is a level of almost coziness to some scenes with the way they look, like the early scenes in Bag End. Most characters and landscapes look dark and grim with thick outlines and smudged colors that seem to bleed together and it works more often than not. However, there are other moments where it can’t be overlooked. The fluidity of animation and frame errors leave much to be desired with most action sequences feeling rubbery. There are also several instances of reused animation to further stretch the already paper-thin budget.
Lastly, the cast charged with bringing the iconic characters to life far exceed the quality of animation that they are constrained by. Orson Bean is quiet and timid for the early scenes of Bilbo’s screen time. Then as Bilbo’s character develops and becomes more bold, Bean’s inflection and tone follow suit until he is the hero he never knew he could be. Long before the magnificent Ian McKellen portrayed Gandalf the Grey, John Huston of silver age Hollywood fame lends his iconic voice to the character. While McKellen is softer and more likeable, Huston seems to fit the character in a different way – he’s more eccentric and almost takes a more theatrical stagelike approach. Lastly, Richard Boone’s deep and foreboding voice matches and almost exceeds Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug. He’s less grandiose and more business-like than the live-action version.
The Hobbit 1977 is a pleasant and fun way to introduce the world of Middle Earth to young fans who can readily excuse the harsh animation and disjointed pacing. Before I was old enough to read The Hobbit, I watched this 1977 tv movie on VHS about a thousand times, and to this day, when I read the book I picture everything in this style. The nostalgia glasses definitely give this movie a bump in the score for me, but if you’re at all interested in seeing another version of the classic franchise, give this movie a shot.