Only the hopelessly misguided could possibly contend that Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring” was not the best film of last year and in recent memory. However, that does not make the movie immune from criticism, and with all due respect to Jackson and his otherwise fantastic masterpiece, the film’s exposition left much to be desired.

Notably absent was a detailed account of how the ring that caused so much commotion came to be in the possession of the Baggins family. Yes, the movie mentioned that Bilbo found the ring while in Gollum’s cave, yet it neglected how Bilbo got to that dank and dreary place, and how he came to learn of the ring’s mysterious powers.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s books on which the movie and its forthcoming sequels are based remedy this problem by providing more information. However, Tolkien wrote “The Hobbit,” the ultimate predecessor to his LOTR trilogy; that preceding work was adroitly adapted to television as an animated feature in 1977 by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr.

“The Hobbit” is a story about a gentleman named Bilbo Baggins who lives in Hobbiton and is quite content living at home and going about his usual, bucolic hobbit business. This changes when a wizard named Gandalf and a band of 13 dwarves recruit Baggins for an adventure to reclaim treasure historically belonging to Thorin, the leader of the diminutive dwarf group. The treasure has been seized by a dragon named Smaug who lives in Misty Mountain and terrorizes any folk who disturb him.

Characteristic of all Tolkien works is a meticulous detailing of Middle Earth’s inhabitants, a list that includes elves, dwarves, hobbits, trolls, goblins, and men among others. Each race of creature comes with a history and a set of defining characteristics that make the stories wonderfully enchanting yet also difficult to recreate on screen. The challenge is always to succinctly incorporate the plethora of crucial identity elements without making the story stale or plodding.

Jackson has been praised for his true-to-the-text representations of the fictitious Middle Earth, where “The Hobbit” and LOTR take place, and he has accordingly credited Ralph Bakshi’s 1978 cartoon version of Fellowship for having provided him with a visual basis for his conception of the hobbit world. However, Bass and Rankin’s work has to have influenced Jackson as well-given how similar their representation of Hobbiton is to Jackson’s. While the exceptional authenticity of both films may ultimately owe to Tolkien’s evocative writing, the similarities between the representations of Bag End are remarkable, from the hobbit hole’s surrounding topography to the layout of its living room. Thus, “The Hobbit” is worthy of praise if only for how closely it mirrors Tolkien’s original, vivid depictions.

However in some ways, the animated film does stray from its literary progenitor. Critics of the ’77 work have cited its omission of some plot elements and characters like Beorn as damning shortcomings, but these complaints are easily disregarded because the movie manages to include all of the critical elements of the book.

No one who watches The Hobbit will lack sufficient knowledge of the original story, and given that the cartoon was limited by television to a 90-minute duration, it should instead be commended for still being as thorough as it is.

How closely does “The Hobbit” follow its corresponding text? Many of the lines spoken by the characters are directly taken off of Tolkien’s pages, and the film includes a bevy of the songs written by Tolkien as having been sung by his wonderfully eclectic characters.

This latter feature of the film is one of its strongest and most defining. A scop who is not present in thebook or pictured in the film and occupies an amorphous, explicative position is appropriately voiced by folk singer Glenn Yarbrough. His rich and soothing voice melodically animates more-narrative ditties like “Roads Go Ever, Ever On” while hearty choruses often enliven the songs and verses of the elves, dwarves, and goblins.

The film’s music helps it ensnare viewers by enhancing the emotions that the work aims to create. The story can feel both exciting and ominous at various moments due to the songs – the strong male chorus turns the hobbit and dwarves’ rescue from wolf-riding goblins into an adventure while a subdued, echoing, female voice makes Bilbo’s sojourn into Gollum’s pit seem lonely and dangerous. After enough viewings of the involved account of Bilbo’s journey and its accompanying, moving music, The Hobbit begins to resemble an animated rendering of a history long forgotten yet still enrapturing.

This captivating nature also owes to how well the movie establishes the nuances of its characters, as enumerated in the book. The wood elves appear slender and in a camouflage that both protects them in Mirkwood Forest and is in accordance with their theoretical connection to nature; Elrond possesses his characteristically pointed ears; Gandalf’s face is weathered by age and experience.

The only character not portrayed as accurately as possible is Gollum, who more closely resembles an anthropomorphic lizard than a hobbit who has grown haggard from years of owning the poisonous ring. Yet this shortcoming is in some ways forgivable because “The Hobbit” richly shows Gollum as the petty, decrepit, frightful sociopath that he is.

An unfortunate drawback of the film is the editing. Viewers watching “The Hobbit” on VHS or DVD will notice the glaring cuts originally made to accommodate the film’s original televised format. These breaks in the action can at times detract from the movie’s quality. Additionally, while the animation is better than that on “South Park,” it will not make anyone forget “Toy Story” any time soon. Of course this shortcoming arises from the production’s age (it is now 25 years old), yet those who watch it for the first time tomorrow will still initially laugh at its seeming obsolescence.

No shortcoming should wholly diminish “The Hobbit”, however. The film is a wonderful adaptation of a classic story, and it deftly blends action, drama, tenderness and humor (Gandalf, upon hearing Bilbo’s tale about Gollum, responds with a wink, “Your story, Bilbo, has the ring the of truth. Yes, it rings true”).

With Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” set for release in 13 days (watch out, Harry), viewers owe it to themselves to discover the story’s origins.

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