Thursday, January 3, 2013
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Theatrical Review)
Adventure, Fantasy, 169 minutes
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving
After the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I hoped and expected that director Peter Jackson would stick to the same format for The Hobbit. In some ways he does, but the feel isn't exactly the same.
What I like about this first installment of Tolkien's first trip to Middle Earth is that the same sets are used for Hobbiton, and many of the actors return. It was also a good idea to reprise some of the music used in the previous trilogy. When I saw the familiar setting and heard the music, I was already partly won over by the movie. Unfortunately, my opinion had changed long before it finally ended.
So why do I have mixed feelings?
The first major problem was the decision to make this much shorter story into a trilogy. Many of the scenes felt overly long, and did not serve much purpose. I didn't have a watch or a phone with me, but it seemed as if we spent around an hour in Bilbo's house before the quest even began.
The Hobbit is the tale of Bilbo's first adventure. After a visit from Gandalf (McKellen), dwarves start showing up at his house unannounced. This unwelcome interruption of his routine is disturbing to Bilbo (Freeman), as he learns that Gandalf has persuaded the dwarves that Bilbo should join their quest to retrieve their stolen gold from the dragon, Smaug. This part of the story shows the initial stages of that journey.
I'm not really sure what The Hobbit wanted to be, or what the intended audience was. Like the books, some of the scenes involve characters breaking into song on a few occasions. I found this to be annoying rather than charming, but I am sure that some will be happy that songs were included. One of the flaws with the generally excellent previous trilogy was the use of humor. Well, The Hobbit turns that element up several notches, and most of it is incredibly stupid. The first clue was a belching scene at dinner in Bilbo's house, but the humor was relentless. The most out of place example was when one of the major villains died and had to deliver a one-liner as he expired. For me, this had the effect of completely removing any tension or drama. It was like watching a Roger Moore Bond movie set in Middle Earth.
The choice of Freeman as Bilbo seemed odd to me, but I must admit that he did a decent job. A few of his lines were actually funny.
I'm sorry to belabor the point, but the use of humor seemed to contradict the overall feel of the movie. Half of the speeches were too epic in tone to be taken seriously. I didn't know whether I was watching a Shakespearean production, a spoof, or an action movie. One of the people sitting behind me felt compelled to laugh at almost every line of dialogue, so the jokes obviously worked for somebody. My idea of humor would be to have Hugo Weaving saying "Mister Oakenshield" in his best Agent Smith voice, so it's probably a good thing that I didn't write the screenplay.
It's a shame that The Hobbit doesn't seem to be up to the same standard set by Lord of the Rings. The movie's opening has been incredibly successful, and my theater was still sold out two weeks after it was released. I have to wonder how many patrons will return for the remainder of the trilogy.
The setting is beautiful, and some of the actors return, but there are too many inconsistencies for me to give The Hobbit a passing grade. If you want to hang out in Middle Earth, watch some great special effects, and admire some enormously detailed sets, you might enjoy the movie. If you care about the books, or the characters, you may be sorely disappointed. I saw the film four hours ago and can only put faces to the names of four of the dwarves. They were thinly-drawn at best.
This release might just persuade me to skip the other two installments in theaters. I'll borrow the Blu-rays and see if the story improves.
Overall score 3/5
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