The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Directed by: Peter Jackson Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis Running Time: 2 hrs 49 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: December 14, 2012
PLOT: Based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel, a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) and Gandalf the Grey (McKellen) attempt to help a group of Dwarves reclaim their homeland from the dragon Smaug.
WHO'S IT FOR? Tolkien freaks will love to see another Jackson-created world of hobbits, wizards, orcs and dwarves. Notice I didn't say die-hard adventure fans?
EXPECTATIONS: I have seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy many times, including my most recent viewing when I watched all of the extended versions back to back to back. I love this world, those I've never loved the books.
For The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey there is one key word in that title I will keep going back to: unexpected.
At just a hair under three hours, I was ready for The Hobbit to feel long, but I wasn't ready for it to be boring. After all, I never felt like the The Lord of the Rings trilogy was boring. We begin with Bilbo (Ian Holm) and Frodo (Elijah Wood) hanging out. There's a slight reason for Holm to be there, after all, an old Bilbo is writing his story. Frodo, on the other hand, is there to bring in the mail. That's it. The only purpose it serves is to remind you that you're watching a story about Middle Earth.
Not only does the script have no urgency, neither does the Hobbit we're here to see, Bilbo. Gandalf described a young Bilbo as someone who is always getting up to something. Now, as an adult Bilbo just likes to hang out. He's overwhelmed and annoyed when Dwarves come a callin'. He's terribly relieved when they leave the next morning and he gets his house back. And yet, Bilbo randomly decides to join the adventure. What's worse is he seems to constantly regret the decision once he's gone ... for good reasons (he could die) and bad (he forgot his handkerchief). None of them are impactful. Even toward the end, it seems that Bilbo is trying to prove his motivations instead of believing them. So if Bilbo doesn't excite with his character development, who does? No one. Gandalf leaves, only so he can make dramatic entrances. Thorin (Armitage) is the Dwarf King, and he slightly stands out with something to prove. There's also the Chris Farley-like Dwarf, Bombur (the fat one), and the other Dwarves tend to blend together. Thankfully, there is one character who still dazzles. Gollum shows up and gives the film a momentary jolt. The battle of wits between Gollum and Bilbo is the highlight, even if I had trouble hearing exactly what the riddles were, due to Gollum's verbiage.
The comedy doesn't work at all. Perhaps there are a few chuckles, but Jackson and company were hoping for a lot more. Maybe they are trying to trend young, but the jokes consist of Dwarves over-eating (a whole wheel of cheese isn't funny enough), trolls smelling, and Bilbo being awkward. The problem is, Freeman doesn't seem to have the same zest for uncomfortable moments that he did so wonderfully in the BBC's "The Office." There's also Radagast the Brown (another wizard). This character is yet another attempt at humor. It brings to mind those uncomfortable moments with Jar Jar Binks.
The visuals are second-to-none. There is a battle sequence involving giant rock creatures that is flawless. There is a chase sequence through caves that is drop-dead gorgeous to stare at. The interaction between different-sized characters seems to be perfected by Jackson and crew. It does look like the tall Gandalf and the short Bilbo are in the same room. All of this gives really nice moments of escape, but it isn't enough, and it doesn't make you connected to the story.
This seems like a good a place as any to discuss 3D 48 fps (frames per second). Other films are in 24 fps. What does that mean? At first, it looks like everything is sped up. All basic movements look odd, and false. When it's a high-speed action sequence, it's pretty great. Plus, it's brighter so the 3D glasses, which darken the screen, won't be a problem. My eyes really noticed the 48 fps, and it became a distraction. It's less cinematical, more life like. It it's a slow scene, you can't help but notice the details, and therefore the production stages, and there are many slow scenes in this film. I could see it being utilized well in a non-stop action, or science fiction film, but spending almost three hours with it here definitely didn't make me a believer.
It would be easy to say the source material is a lesser story than "The Lord of the Rings," and that's all there is to it. It seems like more. There is too much stretched material, and not a character to grap onto. You need to be a Tolkien scholar to fully keep up (what's a Necromanser?), and a child to truly enjoy the humor. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is unexpectedly boring, unexpectedly distracting, and unexpectedly not reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10