“In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”
What came of that sentence is a book widely considered to be not only one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature ever written, but one of the defining pieces of fantasy literature. It was a book that not only changed Professor Tolkien’s life, but changed an entire genre. Because of what The Hobbit (and it’s sequel) became, the fantasy-fiction genre would never be the same.
But The Hobbit is very clearly a children’s book; the pace is quick, humor is spread throughout, and the plot is extremely simple. Is it odd then that the sequel, The Lord of the Rings, is such a long, dark book; nearly monolithic in its pacing, and so abundant in detail and information that it can be overwhelming to even the most serious of readers.
When Peter Jackson adapted The Lord of the Rings into his award winning trilogy of films, he did an admirable job. Changes were made (some quite drastic), things were added (some for the better), and the films managed to stand apart from the source material. Jackson seemed to understand the world and material, and seemed to have the ability to bring it to life in a convincing way. So, that considered, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey should be a wonderful addition to “Middle-earth” on film.
I am sad to say that it is not.
As I said, The Hobbit is very clearly a children’s book. It isn’t “epic” as much as it is adventurous, fun and light-hearted, and while this film is much lighter in tone than The Lord of the Rings, it tries to do too much and feels bloated because of it. When writing the film(s) decisions were made regarding the script which are baffling. First of all, why are we turning a 300 page book into a three-part movie? Also, when writing the script Jackson & Co. plunged into the supplemental material Tolkien wrote to tie into The Hobbit and incorporated it into the story in awkward ways.
Now, to be fair, they did the same with The Lord of the Rings (weaving the Aragorn-Arwen plot line into the film was inspired), but here the material does not mesh with the actual material from the book. All of this material was added in an attempt to a) bridge these films with The Lord of the Rings films, and to b) help match the tone of those films. But why couldn’t Jackson just do a straight adaptation? Instead of fleshing the film out all he did was make it feel over-long and bloated. The addition of Radaghast the Brown, for example, is painfully bad — he almost reaches Jar-Jar like levels of awfulness.
As for the long-touted technical achievements of the film (this is the first movie ever shot in 48 frames per second, as apposed to 24fps): it doesn’t work quite as expected. The film’s “look” is drastically inconsistent; sometimes looking brilliantly realistic, while other times looking waxy, cheap and like a TV with the horrible “smooth motion” setting turned on. The 3D adds nothing to the film (except raising ticket prices), and is tiring on the eyes (the film runs almost three hours). Another downside to the higher frame rate is that at times it seems as if the film were put in “fast forward” — during the opening of the film, for instance, old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) zips around his home like Speedy Gonzales and looks ridiculous.
But fear not! Not all is dire and bad! The film does feature some great performances. Martin Freeman turns in a particularly strong performance as Mr. Bilbo Baggins (“of Bag End!”), and by the end of the movie even Ian McKellen seems to move back into his role as Gandalf quite comfortably. But the real star of the show is Andy Serkis as Gollum. He is only in one scene near the end of the film, and this will (sadly) be his only appearance in the trilogy (well, should be). But when Gollum is on screen everything picks up and suddenly becomes very, very interesting. His interaction with Martin Freeman is not only priceless, but might be some of the best acting I’ve seen in a very long time.
Yet the thirteen dwarves in the film (Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Dwalin, Balin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Dori, Nori, Ori and Thorin Oakenshield) are all forgettable and don’t really do anything. As in…nothing. Well, aside from drinking, eating, singing, belching, making testicle jokes, killing things and looking hairy.
Also, and I say this without doubt, if there is such a thing as “photo-realism” then Gollum is it. He is the best looking CG character I’ve ever seen in any movie. The sad thing is that when you consider how great Gollum looks, you begin to notice how bad some of the other CG looks. Unlike LOTR (I got tired of typing the whole thing) in which Jackson used costumes for the orcs and goblins and other critters, in this film he decided to mainly use CG — and mark my words there is a lot of CG. In fact, I would say the film suffers from The Phantom Menace complex, that being that most of its world was created in computers and it is painfully obvious. The film just looks fake and cheap, which is heart breaking.
I went into the movie with high hopes (maybe I was expected too much) and was disappointed to find a quickly paced children’s book turned into a over-long film with extremely poor pacing and an inconsistent appearance.
To be perfectly honest, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just isn’t very good (it isn’t bad it just isn’t great or even good), and that breaks my heart because I trusted Peter Jackson. But seriously, why is he making this into three movies? There just is not enough book to warrant that, and he knows it.
If you just absolutely have to see this movie, then save yourself some money and see it in 2D and preferably at 24fps (the 48fps showings are marked as “HFR”).
But as much as it breaks my heart, I do not recommend seeing this movie. Jackson just was not able to rekindle the magic of his LOTR trilogy.