Anthony Lane reviews The Hobbit in The New Yorker:
In “The Lord of the Rings,” the errand of Frodo, though epic in execution, was plain enough: to destroy what would, in the wrong hands, cause irreversible harm. It was like stopping the Nazis from building an atomic bomb. But what the dwarves want, in the pages of “The Hobbit,” is gold, and their lust for it corrodes the quest and tarnishes its valor. That is what lusts do. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, who deplored the vanishing of the Latin Mass, believed in the existence of evil and in the struggle to be delivered from its claws. It is there in every shimmering scale of Smaug, the dragon; deprived by a mouse-quiet Bilbo of a single precious cup, he falls, Tolkien writes, into “the sort of rage that is only seen when rich folk that have more than they can enjoy suddenly lose something that they have long had but never used or wanted.” Ouch. The dwarves, in their small way, are no less possessed, and the joke is that a hobbit, who wishes nobody ill, should help to lead them into temptation. So many twists of the spirit, in such little space. In my old paperback, Tolkien gets the whole thing done in two hundred and eighty pages, nineteen chapters in all. And how far has Jackson travelled, after almost three hours of cinema? The end of Chapter 6. The corrosion has yet to bite.***
For pathos, though, we still have Gollum, the damned and slimy soul (voiced again by Andy Serkis), who lurks in the dark and loses what he loves. Bilbo finds it: “His hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel.” That is the account given by Tolkien, who knew that turning points were all the more momentous for being unadorned, but Jackson, with so much room to spare, cannot dare to underplay the crux. Instead, before Bilbo stumbles upon the ring, we see it slip from Gollum’s safekeeping, tumble in refulgent slow motion, and, on impact, give a resounding clang. (If Jackson ever films “Othello,” wait for Desdemona’s handkerchief to hit the ground like a sheet of tin.) “All good stories deserve embellishment,” Gandalf says to Bilbo before they set off, and one has to ask whether the weight of embellishment, on this occasion, makes the journey drag, and why it leaves us more astounded than moved. And yet, on balance, honor has been done to Tolkien, not least in the famous riddle game between Bilbo and Gollum, and some of the exploits to come—dwarf-wrapping spiders, a battle of five armies, and the man who turns into a bear—will surely lighten the load. As Bilbo says, nearing the end of the book, “Roads go ever ever on.” Tell me about it.