Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Theatrical Review)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)
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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  1. Fair and honest on your part. My comment and you will understand is: Never! Agnes

    1. Yep, all my reviews are honest. I don't expect everyone to agree. Or anyone to agree with every opinion. I'm sure this was a wasted opportunity to make a good film.

  2. I afraid I completely and absolutely disagree with you. This was excellent from start to finish, the pace, the tone... everything. I loved the additional scenes, nothing felt over long at all. The characters were all amazing, I adored each and every one of them from Thorin right down to Fili, Kili and Dwalin. This was right on par with LOTR for me and I cannot wait to see it again and again. And again.

    1. We don't often disagree to that extent, I'm glad you enjoyed it, Melissa.

  3. I think you're being very kind in giving it a 3/5. I first read the Hobbit when I was sixteen, over thirty years ago. I was immediately drawn in by the depth and detail that the author used in describing the characters and scenes. He drew me into the world. And I was hooked. Soon after, I read the Lord of the Rings and again I was taken to a world that lived and breathed all on its own. When I went to the theater to see the Fellowship of the Rings I avoided reviews and web sites to allow myself to view the movie without any expectations or bias except my own. I was shocked. The removal of some scenes and addition of others did not seem to make sense to me. The Hobbit does the same but tenfold. The roots of the main characters are stripped and any humor from the book is removed to be added by the script writer's imagination. Okay, so there were thirteen Dwarves, they met in Hobbiton with the aid of a wizard named Gandalf, and they met a Hobbit named Bilbo. Bilbo finds a magic ring. Aside from that, the similarities between the book and movie ends. It was a movie, yes. Was it a good movie? To some, maybe. Was it a blockbuster? A resounding no! The feel of the characters and the transitions from scene to scene were muddled at best. The effects in The Hobbit were an improvement from The Fellowship Of The Ring, but the story suffers for it. If I had a chance to make a request it would be: "Please, Peter Jackson, leave The Silmarillion alone."

    1. Ray,

      I can only imagine how disappointed you must be after being a fan for that long. I gave it 3/5 for the sheer scale of the attempt and the technical excellence.

      I thought Fellowship was good as a movie, but you just knew that the battles would be emphasized because it looks better on the screen.

      They should do an art house version and just sit them down on a mountain to talk for a couple of hours. Then, maybe, we would find out something about the characters.

      I wonder what Tolkien would say if he saw this adaptation?

      I am hoping that Ender's Game is done right later this year, as that's my LOTR.

      Will you go to see the other installments?

  4. "Its all about opinions" loved your review as always fine sir BUT must disagree with your verdict - The Hobbit was my number one movie of 2012, an exciting, enthralling, magical movie that has me looking to December with much excitement for "The Desolation of Smaug". I have Read all of Tolkien's work and was happy to proved so wrong when Peter Jackson done the impossible and brought them to the big screen "The Hobbit" stands alongside the Rings trilogy in it's scale and pure cinematic experience and although you will always get the fanboys complaining about this that and the other I am pretty sure if Tolkien was still with us today he would marvel at these movies as I do.

    1. I'm getting a lot of comments like this, so I'm clearly in the minority here. I'm glad that it works so well for most people. I think I'm becoming increasingly sensitive to things which take me out of the story. I know that this is a fantasy movie, and that it's not supposed to be real, but I would prefer some of the reactions within the scenes to be more realistic. It's the difference between entertainment and pure drama, I suppose. Some films deliver a balance closer to my taste.

      I can handle the one-liners in an action movie, because I expect them. I'm wouldn't say that I am a Tolkien fanboy by any means, but I am an Ender's Game fanboy. It will be interesting to see how I react to that later in the year.

  5. Nice review, Steve. You were kind to this one compared to me. I hated it and thought it was torture to sit through.

    1. Most people seemed to love it, so we are in the minority. I don't think my opinion will change if I ever see the other two, but I suppose it is possible.

  6. I don't think I'll watch the other two, to be honest.