THE HOBBIT (1978) is a charming, made-for-television version of the classic J.R.R. Tolkien novel. The simple fantasy/adventure story eventually spawned the famed Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is making its way to theaters this winter. In anticipation of that event, Warner has released this animated "prequel" to DVD.
The plot, for those few who don't know, concerns the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit in Middle Earth who is convinced against his better judgment to join a gang of dwarves in their quest to reclaim their gold from the evil dragon Smaug. Along the way, Bilbo must outwit and fight trolls, goblins, and giant spiders... And he also discovers a mysterious ring with magical powers.
It may be a bit of nostalgia talking here, but I really enjoy this film. The drawings may be a bit crudely animated, without a lot of motion or dynamics, but they are well drawn. Freeze the frame at just about any scene and you see some real quality artwork. The story, the songs, the art, the voice talent -- it all comes together in an entertaining mix. For me, John Huston will always be Gandalf, and it is going to take a long time for me to get used to another actor in that role. All of the other actors do a wonderful job in making these characters seem real. The main fault of THE HOBBIT is that, at a brisk 78 minutes, it moves a bit too quickly and breezes over a lot of the plot of the original story. But the movie still remains true to the spirit of the novel, and its other strengths more than make up for this minor flaw. Children and adults alike will probably enjoy this adaptation, although Tolkien purists could be in for a disappointment.
THE HOBBIT is presented full-frame (1.33:1), the proper aspect ratio for a television production. Colors are bright and crisp, for the most part. There are a few brief sequences where the picture appears momentarily soft, but it is only a minor distraction. I noticed no digital artifacts and only a slight amount of noise in the picture. Overall, it's an improvement over the previous VHS editions, but not any sort of major restoration.
The audio on the DVD is presented in the original mono. The sound betrays its made-for-TV nature by having an extremely limited dynamic range, but it is always clear. Musical sequences have a bit more life to them, but also lack any sense of depth. Dialog is well presented and always understandable.
Aside from the usual cast and crew page and a couple of screens of fairly useless trivia, there are no extras on this DVD. Subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.
I really enjoyed this animated film, although I admit that it won't be for all tastes. Fans will be satisfied (but not amazed) at the picture and sound quality on the DVD, and newcomers to Tolkien's work should find this to be an entertaining introduction to the upcoming Lord of the Rings theatrical films. Highly recommended.