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Hobbit, The: An Unexpected Journey
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Misty Mountain Flop"
2 stars

In shooting "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," his long-awaited adaption of J.R.R. Tolkien's prequel to the celebrated "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (which he also filmed to no small acclaim a decade ago), filmmaker Peter Jackson elected to present his latest tour of Middle Earth not only in the by-now-expected grandeur of unnecessary 3-D but in a new-fangled process known as 48fps. You see, while a normal film image goes through a projector at a rate of 24 frames per second, the new process doubles that rate in order to produce an image of startlingly increased resolution and clarity. (Alas, it does not allow you to watch the film in half the time as well.) The end result is certainly different from the norm--the closest analogue I can think of is to those special HD presentations of theatrical events like opera that sometimes play at a theater near you--and while some have hailed it as a bold new direction for film presentation, others has complained that it just doesn't look right to them and there have even been rumors of some viewers suffering from something akin to motion sickness as the result of their inability to handle all of the information that they are now being asked to process. (The film will also been playing in theaters in the standard 24fps rate as well., for those inclined.)

The screening of "The Hobbit" that I attended was in 48fps and while I found the image to be odd and disconcerting and not entirely successful for the most part (a not-uncommon reaction to early experiments with new film technologies), I will state for the record that at no point did I ever feel the urge to urp my bagel and Coke Zero upon the theater floor. However, this has less to do with my iron-like constitution and more to do with the inescapable fact that I was more concerned with falling asleep than with regurgitating my breakfast. Alas, the golden touch that Jackson displayed in bringing the previous "Lord of the Rings" films--epics that could be embraced equally by hard-core fantasy fanatics and people like me who involuntarily flinch at the thought of anything involving dragons, elves, mystical quests and the like--to the screen has apparently eluded him this time around because this is a major disappointment that is about as difficult to swallow as the Denny's meals that are among the avalanche of commercial tie-ins that have accompanied its release. Sure, the original trilogy still has enough residual goodwill amongst moviegoers to ensure that it will be a hit at the box-office but no matter how hard they try to convince themselves that the magic is still there, I have a feeling that many of them will find themselves privately admitting that the object of their devotion has turned into a bloated bore from which there is seemingly no escape.

And despite the promise hinted at in the title, viewers eager to see some hard-core journeying or even a glimpse of actual hobbit are going to be cooling their heels for a while before those elements kick in. First off, we are treated to an extended prologue offering viewers a tour of the kingdom of Erebor ruled by dwarves atop the Lonely Mountain and how it--not to mention the extraordinary amounts of gold and other treasures collected by its ruler over the years--was all lost when the castle was attacked and seized one day by a enormous and fearsome dragon known as Smaug. After that, the film fast-forwards (well, forwards) to a time just before the events of "The Fellowship of the Ring" in which cheerful hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) takes pen to paper to chronicle another adventure from his past for his friend Frodo (Elijah Wood) to read at a future time when a movie studio needs a guaranteed box-office sensation to help fatten their own Smaug-free coffers. Then, and only then, does the story proper finally kick into gear as we move back to about 60 years before "Fellowship" as the younger Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is unexpectedly visited by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellan) and, in rapid succession, 13 dwarves under the leadership of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) who have banded together in order to return to Erebor and retrieve their kingdom from the clutches of Smaug. A fourteenth person is needed for the quest and Gandalf have decided that Bilbo is just the hobbit for the job.

Not surprisingly, the meek and mild Bilbo begs to differ but after much dithering, singing and crockery-involved horseplay, he finally has a change of heart and joins the others on their mission. It is indeed a perilous trek and the film finds room to chronicle practically every single detail of it from an emergency involving a pet hedgehog on the brink of death to attacks from mysterious and deadly foes and the like. Along the way, the gang makes an elongated pit stop at Rivendell, a decision that forces the dwarves to confront the elves that have become one of their most hated enemies and allows the glorious Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) to make a brief appearance that keeps the proceedings from being a complete Vienna sausage fest. While making their way through the goblin-infested Misty Mountains, Bilbo has his fateful first encounter with the creepy and misshapen Gollum (Andy Serkus), with whom he engages in an extended round of Dueling Riddles and, more importantly, picks up a piece of jewelry that the creature unknowingly drops that just may have some significance a little further down the road. As the film ends, the Lonely Mountain has just come into view for our heroes, which is more than the audience can say since Jackson has endeavored to stretch things out for no fewer than two more films that will no doubt run about as long as this one.

Of course, an extended-length film from Peter Jackson, a filmmaker who seems hellbent on making sure viewers get their money's worth and then some, is nothing new but in the past, his excesses could usually be excused. Each of the three "Lord of the Rings" films clocked in at around three hours but since each one of those was recounting a separate and highly detailed narrative, the jumbo-sized running times were more than justified. (If they had been any shorter, in fact, the resulting films might have been fatally muddled.) Many people complained when his remake of "King Kong" also clocked in at over three hours--especially when the extensions kept the title character from making his first appearance for more than an hour--but its indulgences were so cheerfully shameless that it was hard to resist them too much. His adaptation of "The Lovely Bones," on the other hand, was a total mess that was so overblown, draggy and self-indulgent that its general rejection by critics and audiences alike should have indicated to Jackson that indulging in every possible cinematic whimsy did not necessarily do his filmmaking much goo and that dialing things back a bit in the future might not be the worst idea. If "The Hobbit" is any indication, such a notion clearly didn't take because the film is an example of self-indulgence on such a staggering scale (emphasis on staggering) that will boggle the mind and kink the back of anyone sitting through it. There is a legendary story that in adapting the novel "McTeague" to the screen in a little film called "Greed," director Erich von Stroheim was supposedly obsessed with the idea of literally filming every single page of the book. This story is pure nonsense but in adapting Tolkien's relatively slim story, Jackson and co-writers Fran Walsh , Philippa Boyens and Guillermo del Toro (who was scheduled to direct the film at one point in its tortured production history) seem to have taken that myth to heart by including practically everything from the book save for the copyright notice and then some. As a result, virtually every scene in the film seems to go on for a minute or two longer than necessary and most people will be wishing that someone had been brave or foolhardy enough to tell Jackson that less really can be more in some cases. The entire enterprise is so bloated, in fact, that this could well be the first film since "Where the Wild Things Are" where it takes less time to read the book than it does to see the movie that it inspired and in that case, the book was only ten sentences long.

To be fair, there are presumably many people out there for whom the idea of spending several more hours wandering around in the world that Tolkien created and which Jackson brought to life might have enormous appeal. The trouble is that in comparison to the earlier films, "The Hobbit" comes up short (no joke intended) in virtually every category. Where "LOTR" gave viewers fully detailed and fleshed-out narratives that were reasonably compelling even for those who had never really warmed to the genre before, this one just comes across as a indifferently assembled collection of rehashed material that contains none of the magic or excitement. Instead of a collection of colorful and individually interesting characters, this film presents us with a largely undifferentiated gaggle of sword-wielding non-entities with the only ones making any sort of impression being the ones whom we have already gotten to know through the previous tales. Instead of presenting viewers with a thoroughly convincing depiction of Middle Earth via a combination of lavishly appointed sets, the stunning New Zealand countryside and groundbreaking special effects, everything is just kind of ho-hum this time around and the aforementioned 48fps process has the unfortunate side effect of ruining some of the suspension of disbelief by revealing the seams via its unforgiving hyper-sharp imagery.

The real problem with "The Hobbit," once you get past Jackson''s advanced case of directorial logorrhea, is that it is no longer as fresh as it once was. Back when "Fellowship of the Ring" first came out and captivated viewers, much of the acclaim was due to the stunned realization that Jackson and his legions of workers had taken an enormous gamble that paid off by translating a beloved fantasy classic from the page to the screen with a lavishness and fidelity to detail that few had ever even attempted before, let alone managed to pull off with any degree of success. With "The Hobbit," Jackson has given us more of the same but doesn't seem to recognize that it cannot possibly have the same impact the fourth time around and to make matters worse, fantasy fans are getting their genre sweet tooth satisfied on a weekly basis with "Game of Thrones," which tells a tale as complex and elaborately detailed as Tolkien's and with lavish amounts of graphic sex and violence to boot. Clearly a new approach was needed this time around--one that del Toro presumably would have supplied had he remained at the helm--and seeing how the original story was initially designed to be a lighter work aimed at younger readers, a sunnier take could have been utilized without getting the fan base unnecessarily riled up with accusations of selling out to the kiddie market as George Lucas did with "The Phantom Menace." By utilizing the same style that he deployed on the "LOTR" trilogy, Jackson has applied a dark, creepy and oppressively somber and serious-minded tone to a story that is simply too slight to handle it properly. The result is bit of the worst of both worlds--a film that is far too grim for most little kids and far too juvenile for older viewers.

If one looks hard enough, there are momentary pleasures to be had in "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." As always, Ian McKellan is a blast as Gandalf (though he is off-screen too much to help save the proceedings) and the brief appearances by series veterans like Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee are engaging enough. Additionally, Andy Serkis once again turns in impressive work as Gollum and manages to transform what might have just been a simple bit of special effects magic into a fully grown and completely convincing character. A couple of the elaborate set-pieces that Jackson has conjured are legitimately impressive (at least until they overstay their welcome) with a bit involving the sudden appearance of giant rock monsters being the most dazzling of the bunch. For the most part, though, the film is so busy trying to dazzle the eye with every shot that it forgets to tell a compelling story to boot and Jackson lets the proceedings drag on so interminably that you get the sense that you somehow missed seeing the theatrical version devised for the mass audience and are instead watching the super-extended home video version that only the most obsessive fan would even dare to delve into. As it turns out, I have just read that Jackson has already prepared just such an extended edition for release on DVD next winter when the second installment hits theaters. Personally, I would just as soon take my chances with the Smaug.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22559&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/13/12 15:22:50
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User Comments

2/19/15 hhshjjsjj the lord of the rings still the best 3 stars
11/26/14 zenny turns literature into mediocre action pic. meh. 2 stars
1/07/14 Toopy Solid but somehow uninspiring 3 stars
6/13/13 Stephanie Grant It was okay, I'll watch it again. 4 stars
4/21/13 action movie fan a journey not worth taking-lord of the rings trilogy was far better 2 stars
3/17/13 Sheila Koffel Unlike 1st LOTR, yet to demonstrate justification for a 3 movie series. 4 stars
2/25/13 Geraldine Am psyched for 2+3 & appreciate PJ trying to flesh out story only alluded to in the book 5 stars
2/18/13 Heather Purplethorne LOTR was good for refreshing memory of books; this oriented toward those who memorized book 4 stars
2/13/13 Stephanie Throckmorton Cate Blanchett is STILL wrong one to play Galadriel! 4 stars
1/27/13 Koitus Dreadfully slow opening... And, no one even got injured in the goblin battle? Really??? 4 stars
1/21/13 dr.lao Loses points for padding, earns points for engaging character interaction 3 stars
1/20/13 Lenore Francois Orcs, Trolls, Goblins, Gollum - loved it all! Can't wait for the next one. 5 stars
1/04/13 ES It was great 4 stars
12/30/12 Dan Fantastic adaptation. I hope the next two are as good. 5 stars
12/28/12 `Alex Conn average slow not as charming like the original 3 stars
12/25/12 the truth as someone said in my theater - "what the f- happened to the dragon??" 4 stars
12/24/12 Cyrus Maybe better than FOTR. A slow paced film, sort of like an AMC Middle Earth series. 5 stars
12/20/12 Richard Loved every minute of it. Even the "ponderous" parts. 5 stars
12/19/12 jo not bad 4 stars
12/17/12 KingNeutron Goblin King: That'll do it... (falls over dead) 4 stars
12/15/12 Flipsider Many good qualities, but the soundtrack is awful. 2 stars
12/14/12 Bob Dog The only thing that saved my eyes was blessed sleep from boredom. 1 stars
12/13/12 Bob Richardson Anybody who says "about as difficult to swallow as the Denny's meals" is an obvious liar. 5 stars
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  14-Dec-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 12-Mar-2013


  DVD: 12-Feb-2013

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