The Hobbit is an unexpectedly long journey to nowhere


Peter Jackson’s long-awaited Middle Earth prequel is finally here, but will fans of the original trilogy be eager to spend the next three years with Bilbo Baggins and thirteen dwarfs?


Wow, has it really been nine years since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was released? It really doesn’t seem that long, but it does seem like it’s been an eternity since the wheels started turning on production of The Hobbit, what with the rights feuds, a studio bankruptcy, and a director withdrawing even before the first frame was shot. But now it’s here, at least the first of three chapters, and the big question is: was it worth the wait?

The first chapter in the new Hobbit trilogy is resoundingly average.

The answer is neither yes nor no, as the first chapter in the new trilogy is resoundingly average. I remember being enraptured by the first Lord of the Rings movie from the very beginning; the look, the style, the music … everything about it just drew you into the world of Middle Earth. Since we’ve all been there, settling into a viewing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, should be like settling into a comfy couch. You certainly know what to expect style-wise with Peter Jackson once again behind the camera, and even the story should have some familiarity to it, since we’re re-connecting with some characters we already know from the previous films (even though this one takes place sixty years earlier).

Unfortunately, what Jackson has done by taking a simple, single-volume children’s story and turning it into a nine-hour epic has made the movie overly bloated and episodic, especially during the first hour when we’re meeting the thirteen dwarfs and getting side stories that sometimes do not have any bearing on the main story at hand. For instance, Gandalf (Ian McKellan) tells the story of another wizard, Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy) and his discovery of a necromancer destroying nature all around him. This side story intrudes on the main story, as Gandalf brings news of the necromancer to Elrond (Hugo Weaving), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), and Saruman (Christopher Lee) who dismisses it as just a man playing with magic. Of course, the necromancer will obviously play into the story, as Benedict Cumberbatch was cast in the role (and he’s credited, but never seen in the movie).

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences really needs to rethink their acting categories to include motion capture performances like Andy Serkis’ Gollum.

The main plot of the book is there, though, between all of the extra stuff Jackson has added. Bilbo Baggins (a terrific Martin Freeman) is enlisted by Gandalf to join a band of dwarfs on their quest to regain their homeland — and gold — from the dragon Smaug. Along the way, they have to battle orcs, goblins, and trolls, and after getting separated from the group during an underground battle with the goblins, Bilbo meets up with a strange creature, Gollum (Andy Serkis), and comes in possession of that magical, golden ring. It’s here that the movie finally kicks into gear with Serkis’ amazing performance. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences really needs to rethink their acting categories to include motion capture performances like this, because even though the actor is replaced by a fully realized CG character, his performance is just stunning (and the advances in CG rendering since the last movie have grown by leaps and bounds, making this the most realistic Gollum yet).

I fear that the Hobbit trilogy is going to go down in film history as the new Star Wars prequels trilogy.

Unfortunately, the movie ends just as it’s really getting started with the band of travelers seeing their destination for the first time off in the distance. What The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ends up being is a three-hour origin story that we have to wait a year to see how it pans out. Another problem I had was that the whole thing felt like Jackson was just indulging himself. It took a while for the LOTR films to show us some major battles, but The Hobbit has at least three! The effects are incredible, but it all seemed like a bit of overkill and padding. The story has gotten completely lost amongst all the pageantry. More time should have been spent getting to know the dwarfs, the camaraderie, the journey, instead of just throwing one battle after another at us (and don’t get me started on the pointless rock giants fight scene that only served to show off more CGI wonders). As it is, by the end of the movie, you really don’t care one way or another about Thorin’s (Richard Armitage) quest to get back to his home, and with most of the plot points from the book already included in this movie, you have to wonder how much more padding is to come. I fear that the Hobbit trilogy is going to go down in film history as the new Star Wars prequels trilogy.

Another point that needs to be made – at least for those planning to check out the film in the new High Frame Rate 3D edition – is that despite what Jackson and the studio have to say about the process, it really did not serve the film well at all. Yes, the picture is probably the sharpest and clearest you’ve ever seen on a big screen, and the CGI characters all look more real than ever before, but it just looks like you’re watching a big screen version of some old BBC video production from the 1970s (and a modern video game during the battle scenes). The original trilogy had a beautiful look and depth to them — a truly epic scale — but the 48 frames-per-second of video (film normally runs at 24 fps and video at 30 fps) actually makes the movie look cheap and flat, even in 3D! There’s a shot of the band of dwarfs, Bilbo and Gandalf looking across a chasm at Rivendell and it looks like they’re staring at a painting. I don’t know how this will all look when projected at a normal frame rate on film (or in IMAX), and I can appreciate Jackson’s attempts at trying something new (and I shudder to think what Avatar 2 will look like if James Cameron can get the frame rate up to 60 fps), but I think the experiment is a failure (and it doesn’t help if you’re prone to motion sickness … I was still dizzy six hours after leaving the theater and had to resort to Sea Bands to keep from hurling my popcorn about twenty minutes in). Hopefully Jackson can fine tune the effect over the next year and bring a little more depth to the film overall when The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug hits theaters in 2013. The opening chapter, though, is just a bit meh.



Photo Credit: Warner Bros/New Line Cinema/MGM

9 Comments on “The Hobbit is an unexpectedly long journey to nowhere

  1. There was a reason Tolkien didn’t tell us everything Gandalf was up to in The Hobbit – because the story doesn’t need any extra padding. I want to trust that Peter Jackson will do a good job, but I can’t get over the absurdity of making THREE movies (probably each three hours long) from a book that is shorter, tighter, and smaller in scope than LOTR. I need people to just shut up about “More Middle-earth is a good thing” and “PJ’s using material from the appendices.” I love Middle-earth more than most people, but it is simply not possible to make a nine-hour trilogy out of The Hobbit without adding all kinds of filler that distracts from and ruins the pacing of Bilbo’s story. You said it, Chuck – this is self-indulgence by Peter Jackson. Anyone in a creative profession knows that you have to be willing to ruthlessly edit yourself, and he seems to have lost that ability. This has soured my mood towards the new films, even as I anticipate seeing this story brought to life. A bloated Hobbit is better than none at all, but I’m angry that PJ made a self-indulgent decision that serves his bank account rather than the story.

    • I kind of have this fantasy idea that Jackson simply decided to release these films as the Extended Editions so he wouldn’t have to go through all the trouble for the video, and that perhaps he’ll do the reverse and release a shorter theatrical cut on DVD.

  2. first, third third movie, as I understand it, is not the hobbit, but more on the middle earth Tolkien wrote about in the preface to a subsequent edition, I think it deals more the Sillmarillion.
    Also, once again people freak out and forget this is BASED on a book. BASED on means he can add or subtract. I have faith in Jackson

    • I’ve never read the book, so I’m not freaking out about what he did or didn’t add to the story upon which the film is based. I’m just saying if the set-up for the movie is this journey that Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarfs are taking to destroy Smaug and regain the kingdom or Erebor … then that’s what the movie should be about. It’s just excessively padded out to make it go for three movies, and to me that feels a bit self-indulgent. I’m not basing the review on supposition … I sat through it and not knowing anything about the book, I still felt it was overly padded and really strayed from the main story. And from what I’ve read about The Silmarillion there isn’t anything in the movie from that. The added stuff is mostly from appendices and various notes that Jackson felt would flesh out the story. It just bogs it down.

      • I don’t think Jackson is allowed to use material from The Silmarillion because the film rights still belong to the Tolkien Estate. That’s why he keeps saying he’s using the appendices, which cover some of the same stuff.

  3. Read “The Hobbit” and then the Ring trilogy while in high school. I have fond memories of all the books and characters and stories that Tolkien wrote and prefer not to tamper with the world my imagination created by watching PJ’s movies. I harbor no ill will to PJ, I just don’t understand why all the fuss.
    Alfred Bester’s “The Stars My Destination” or Asimov’s “Foundation” are books much more worthy of adaptation.

  4. You’re wrong. Both about the HFR 3D and the storyline.

    There’s absolutely no way it looks anything like an old BBC video. it looks amazing and I would absolutely recommend viewing it in this format.

    As for the storyline, it’s one of the few films that I’ve come out of and felt like watching it again the next day. And the day after. I cannot wait for the next two, but in the meantime I will be going back to the cinema to see the hobbit.

    • About the HFR, that’s my opinion (and the opinion of many others) that it makes the movie look cheap and flat, even in 3D. Hopefully the technology advances so that the HFR looks smoother than it does now, but I stand by my opinion. If I want to watch an HD TV movie, I can do that at home … in 3D too. I want a rich, deep film experience at the cinema … like the original LOTR movies. And if you’re prone to any kind of motion sickness, I would not recommend the HFR version under any circumstance.

      As far as the bloated storytelling, I’m also not the only one who has that opinion.

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