Movie Review: “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey”

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Peter Jackson’s return to Middle Earth couldn’t possibly have gone more wrong.

The first third of the director’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous fantasy novel, “An Unexpected Journey” is just crushingly boring. I legitimately had a hard time staying awake for the first hour, and it doesn’t get much more action-packed from there.

Set a few decades prior to the events of “Lord of the Rings,” and touching on Mordor, the Misty Mountain, and other topics frequently cited in Led Zeppelin lyrics,  “The Hobbit” focuses on Bilbo Baggins (played as a young man by British Office veteran Martin Freeman), along with old wizard friend Gandalf (Ian Mckellan).

They’re accompanying a group of dwarves as they attempt to reclaim their lost mountain kingdom from an evil dragon. There are also appearances from old friends from the “Lord of the Rings” pictures, from Cate Blanchett to Hugo Weaving to Christopher Lee, and Elijah Wood’s Frodo even shows up in one scene. And of course, the Orcs and goblins are back, too.

It’s very transparent that Jackson and his team are stretching and stalling the material as much as possible to fit it into more than one movie, slowing down the action to an absurd degree. At least Jackson, unlike in several of past films, doesn’t do that thing where he pauses the plot for 30 minutes so all the CGI creatures can fight each other.

I enjoyed all three of the Jackson “Lord of the Rings” films and admired them as cinematic achievements, although I don’t think I ever saw any of them a second time. I have friends who saw them multiple times, bought the DVD sets with hours of extra footage, and then awhile later bought other DVD sets with hours of new footage on top of that.

But I can say the “Lord of the Rings” cycle had an excitement, not to mention a narrative drive to it, that “The Hobbit” sorely lacks.

Now, a few words about 40 FPS, the revolutionary technology that’s making its major-movie debut with some releases of this movie. It’s an impressive technology with lots of potential, but it’s just wrong for this movie. We get extreme realism, but then the Orcs and goblins show up. It has the added detriment of making the CGI look especially fake, a problem the LOTR films never had.

There’s also the Game of Thrones factor- that show took similar material and made it so great that the long slog that is The Hobbit comes up small by comparison.

“The Hobbit” might be the biggest disappointment of the entire fall. If you’re going to see a movie this month that’s nearly three hours long and based on a fraction of a popular book, make it “Lincoln.” At least Steven Spielberg isn’t threatening to make multiple movies out of other parts of “Team of Rivals.”

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  • Anon

    Yeah, you’re right, LOTR didn’t have fake-looking CGI. Instead they had fake-looking costumes for their Orcs. Are you serious? The orcs were so much faker looking in LOTR. They had obvious rubber masks, their facial features hardly even moved when they talked. CGI does look fake to a point, but it looks leaps and bounds better than the LOTR.