Review: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”
It’s hard to think of one movie from the past decade that left an enormous impact on the genre of fantasy better than Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. His ambitions for a sweeping trilogy based upon J.R.R. Tolkien’s most famous works paid off, with a great cast, some then-stunning visuals, and probably the best musical scores of that decade. The film has also inspired a great deal of imitators, usually adaptations of other works, but similar in terms of style, but none could really match. This film was pretty much was the 2000s equivalent of the Star Wars trilogy.
Like others I was ecstatic at the prospect of Peter Jackson and co. adapting Tolkien’s previous work to LOTR, The Hobbit. Yet this project has had an Unexpected Journey of itself, as there has been rights entanglements with Warner Bros./New Line against Metro Goldwyn Mayer who I believe had some sort of claim to the rights. In the fight, the movie cost its original director Guillermo Del Toro, which makes a really interesting case of “what could have been” considering the stunning production designs of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy II, might have been a different look at Middle Earth. But nope when production finally got off the ground it was back to Peter Jackson, with Del Toro still being credited as screenwriter along with Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens.
Now I didn’t have a problem with this, and the production diaries are just a delight to watch, and I have always loved the behind-the-scenes material they’ve made for the series. My major issue going into this was the trilogy aspect. It’s not a case like the previous trilogy where there were actually three books to adapt from, or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where there is a lot of material just for one movie, The Hobbit is only 310 pages and the quest is pretty damn basic when compared to Lord of the Rings. Even the originally proposed two movies felt too much, any sort of extension beyond the basic story might make it feel spread thin or as Bilbo would put it “Like butter over too much bread.”
Well after finally seeing the movie in IMAX 3D (Which was the 24 Frames Per Second version), the justification they try to give padding this book out into three movies is probably one of its faults. This needed a Legolas to keep everything movie because simply put this movie likes to linger a lot, any momentum the story gains suddenly gets stopped dead in its tracks to deliver more exposition or set-up another plot for obviously the next two films to follow. Now of course the Lord of the Rings trilogy did have its moments where it did feel like it could have condensed specific parts a bit more, especially with regards to the Extended Editions, but here there isn’t a lot of brevity in content to justify, even when they pile on the stuff with the Necomancer. There is no solid feeling of a beginning middle or end, and some of it just feels like a lot of set-up, while not to the nasty extents of Prometheus, the film still doesn’t have a solid structure, reaching only what feels like a minor apex. The framing device seems pointless if pretty much the only reason to have Ian Holm and a somewhat vocally older Elijah Wood cameo. Butter over too much bread.
Having said that, the movie still has a stellar production behind it. Starting off with a likable cast headed by Martin Freeman of The Office fame, who has the charms to pull off the reluctant Bilbo Baggins. You also have Ian McKellen returning as Gandalf the Grey and Andy Serkis as the devious Gollum as if they never left the respective roles. The dwarves are a merry bunch, although maybe a bit underdeveloped that some seem to blur together, with only the lead Dwarf Thorin (Richard Armitage) making any significant impact.
WETA still has their works cut out for them, with some very stellar visual eye-candy, great set designs, and some strikingly good visual effects, especially with the goblins and the return of Gollum feeling like over a decade of progress has done them good. Though it does have its faults (And keep in mind this was the 24 FPS and I hear the 48 might have shown the fakeness a bit more) as some VFX shots feel less polished then others, chroma around the actors kind of mixed at times, the rabbit sleigh not quite having the effect it should, and they still can’t seem to get the Wargs convincingly right. Still if anything this film is another good advertisement for New Zealand as it uses the vistas of the country to great effect making it feel like Middle Earth again. As far as the 3D goes, it was probably not the ideal experience as while there was some great depth in the images, there were parts especially in the sweeping aerial shots where the images began to blur, which is either to the film or the place I was seated in the theater, and which makes me wonder if those were much better meant for the increased frame-rate.
I came out of the theater just feeling not angry, just a little bit peppered out, like it felt like I was being tested on how much I had loved the source material and the previous trilogy, that I would want to spend any more time on Middle Earth, that I would be ready to welcome this new trilogy. I only feel like I’m thinking Peter Jackson has been wrapped up in his idea of what ambition is, that he can’t make something like this without it being a long somewhat weirdly paced epic. I won’t say it is his Phantom Menace, however faults it does have and odd bits of humor it does hit, it is never as intolerable as what George Lucas decided to churn out after a 16 years of fans waiting. I will though approach the sequels a bit cautiously; I’m definitely looking forward to Smaug, but the problems with structure and pacing need to be ironed out and considering that the third film will deal mainly with stuff that wasn’t in The Hobbit, how much more bread is there left?
End of Rant