Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Run Time: 2 hours, 49minutes, Rated PG-13
Starring: Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Scott, Andy Serkis
Based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkein
Directed by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Lovely Bones, King Kong)
"With great power comes great responsibility." Spider-Man taught us this quote, but Peter Jackson is living proof of it. Helming The Lord of the Rings trilogy - one of the most commercially (and critically) successful franchises of all time - was no small task and it's hard to believe that it's been nine years since the last chapter, The Lord of The Rings: Return of the King, hit theaters. The films together grossed nearly 3 billion dollars worldwide, won 17 Academy Awards and a total of 219 total awards scattered across the world.
Safe to say then, that Peter Jackson is a powerful force in Hollywood and the world. One could surmise that he now shoulders a great deal of responsibility.
With adapting The Hobbit to the big screen, Peter Jackson faces a task as daring and impossible as the one Bilbo sets out on in the book. When it was announced that J.R.R. Tolkein's wildly popular yet thin and light The Hobbit was going to be made into a film - directed by Peter Jackson no less - legions of nerds and fanboys all over the world collectively had their heads explode, bursting into a celebration that would rival the fall of Darth Vader and the evil Empire.
But when it was later announced that The Hobbit was going to be stretched into three films, there was more of a unified gasp. How would Peter Jackson take the 300-some pages of The Hobbit - as compared to the 1000+ pages in The Lord of the Rings Trilogy - and make them into three movies?
All of this anticipation and all of this expectation has finally culminated in what can only be described as disappointment. Taking all of this set-up into mind, the first of Peter Jackson's three Hobbit films - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - is an unequivocal failure. That's not to say that it is a total disaster. But it comes close.
As the story goes, the Hobbit Bilbo Baggins lives a quiet, uneventful life in The Shire. Taking place before the events of The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Tolkein's The Hobbit was a light and whimsical read, a children's story that didn't have the same heft, darkness or depth as the later trilogy would have. So in that sense, don't fault Peter Jackson if this new movie doesn't move you like the other films. He's working with different - some would say weaker - base material.
To flesh out these films in order to make them into a trilogy, Jackson pulls from the other peripheral works of Tolkein, such as Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion. This does give some purpose to The Hobbit, the film. For example, in the book the band of dwarves appear at the beginning along with the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan, reprising his role) for no apparent reason other than to go on an adventure. But pulling from other source material, we learn that the dwarves indeed have a purpose: Their homeland was ravaged by the monstrous dragon, Smaug, who as we know, is the main antagonist of The Hobbit.
The dwarves need a thief in order to take back their homeland and reach The Lonely Mountain, where Smaug sits, presiding over his stolen dwarven treasures. Gandalf chooses Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), since Hobbits are small and seem to go by unnoticed. Since they have never been known to leave The Shire, Bilbo also poses as a foreign, unknown factor to the evil armies of the East.
Fans of the book know that the story is pretty simple: Bilbo goes on adventure and then returns home. Along the way he finds a mysterious ring, guarded by a mysterious creature, that can turn him invisible. It isn't until The Lord of the Rings that we learn how important of an occurrence his run-in with Gollum is.
The problem is, those who only know this world from the movies may be taken aback by the aloof, innocent beginnings of this tale. Peter Jackson perfectly portrays the entire opening sequence when the dwarves take over Bilbo's Hobbit hole. But to the non-initiated, images of Jar Jar Binks begin to dance in the mind.
When the "adventure" actually begins, the movie derails into drivel. By the end of the nearly three hours, nothing seems to have happened. Never have I felt so cheated (OK, I didn't pay to see it, but if I had paid, I would have felt cheated...) out of a ticket and especially never have I felt bored in this fascinating world of Middle-Earth.
There is no questioning the amazing visuals that Peter Jackson creates...The Hobbit is a stunning film to look at, made all the more impressive with immersive 3D. But this film suffers from the flawed idea that more should equal more. In other words, just because you can do anything visually nowadays doesn't mean it should be done.
The stakes are so low, the movie is rendered inconsequential. Several new characters are introduced, none of which really stand out. Other new characters, such as Radagast the brown wizard, seem shoe-horned into the movie with no real purpose. Jackson does include a few surprises by returning some beloved (and loathed) characters from the trilogy, but most of this movie consists of watching sweeping long shots of dwarves and Hobbitses running through busy, CG landscapes, never with any sense of real danger.
Now all of this hinges on comparing this film to the previous ones, and perhaps that is unfair. Unfair maybe, but inevitable. To take on the massive responsibility of adapting a beloved book and continuing a beloved franchise that has spawned millions of rabid fans, is a daunting task. On its own merits though and The Lord of the Rings trilogy be damned, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the epitome of excess, an example of a director with unlimited power in need of reigning in.
Next Summer will bring us part two, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It's destined to be a better film, because something will probably happen. But as of now, this is the first journey into Middle-Earth that has made me excited to reach journey's end.
And by the way, couldn't our heroes just ride Gandalf's birds all the way to The Lonely Mountain? Ah, but that would result in fewer films, and think of the billions of dollars that would be lost.
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