Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey review

It took me a long time to watch Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. I always sort of dismissed it as something that I wouldn't want to watch and just never did for a while. I finally did this summer and I loved all three with Return of the King being my favorite. They were epic, exciting and emotional: everything you could possibly expect from big-scale blockbusters. I would say that after watching those films I was genuinely excited to see The Hobbit. After seeing it, I have a lot of mixed feelings.

The Hobbit tells the story of how Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) went on an adventure with a group of dwarves, whose names are Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Balin, Dwalin, Oin, Gloin and their leader Thorin Oakenshield. The dwarves want to take back their homeland of Erebor which was taken by the dragon Smaug. And basically that is it. There is also a subplot involving the Necromancer, an evil spirit and of course the ring. The Hobbit tells of how Bilbo Baggins found the ring which is the foundation of Peter Jackson's fantastic trilogy.

The Hobbit is a short fantasy novel that is aimed at kids and with not a ton at stake. Why Peter Jackson expanded this book into three films is unknown. There really is no reason beyond money. Jackson is known for doing extended cuts of his films on DVD and if there is one for The Hobbit, I will be amazed. I don't think anything was cut. This is not enough material for a trilogy. The whole film consists of the dwarves wandering around Middle Earth while being chased by Orcs. There isn't enough to keep the entertainment level of Lord of the Rings going in The Hobbit. Peter Jackson started with this franchise a long time ago, where he planned to make The Hobbit one film and then two Lord of the Rings films. New Line told him to make three and now somehow he's making three Hobbit films. I don't understand. Not everyone is up for a three hour long Middle Earth epic and certainly not three of them.

After my rant, I will say that once again Peter Jackson makes this high fantasy material easily accessible for audiences. While I have read The Hobbit, I haven't read Lord of the Rings or Tolkien's footnotes so I'm not an expert like Jackson. So I don't honestly know that much about Middle-earth. Jackson still makes it a fun ride, keeping the time spent wandering mindlessly through the forest on par with the amount of fighting. And he manages to reclaim some of the magic that he captured in Lord of the Rings. But certainly not all of it. And certainly not enough to make the Hobbit a great film or maybe even a good one. I have to say that the future is promising for this trilogy. I think that the ending puts Desolation of Smaug in a good position.

Now for the good. The special effects are amazing, with Middle-earth looking as great as ever. But the effects are also misused. The acting is pretty good. I really liked Martin Freeman and Richard Armitrage. They both fit their roles nicely and add some more memorable characters to the Lord of the Rings canon. The action sequences are good, if a little bit clunky. They aren't quite as smooth or as big as some of the scenes in The Two Towers or The Return of the King. But the final battle before the final battle is really good and clean and the scene with Gollum is really good.

Now for the bad: it's a butt-numbing three hour film that takes a long time to get going and when it gets going, isn't really sure where it wants to go. The first hour is pretty good actually. I know a lot of people are not a fan of it and say that it is two slow but I think it was perfect to set up the story and get you back into Middle-earth. Some of the few moments where I recaptured the feeling I got when I first watched LOTR were in the first hour. The second hour is where it really gets you. I was kind of bored during that part at times. I think Jackson wanted to have the source material to make a film that could stand up with the LOTR films but he didn't have it. His result is a series of meaningless chase sequences with little bits and pieces of plot thrown in to move the story along just enough to keep the audience's attention. And the stuff he does thrown in doesn't always make sense. One of my few problems with Lord of the Rings is that they were huge and they were high fantasy which means breesing by things that are important yet might not make sense to the audience. I found that frustrating at times. And with three films for one book, Jackson had a real chance to take his time with the important things. There was some bit about some Necromancer. I had no idea what was going on. And they never bring it up again after Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Saruman (Christopher Lee), Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) talk about it.

Another thing that could have been handled better is the dwarves. There is thirteen and I could recognize about four. I hope the sequels go through the backround of the rest of these dwarves into greater detail. The effects are also overused. Lord of the Rings had some great special effects work but also a lot of practical effects use. The Hobbit is all over-animated, over-done, obviously computer generated effects. It was just too much. Even my little brother said after the film: "It was good, but there was too much animation." There is no reason for Jackson not to ground Middle-earth in some reality. The Orcs are less scary because they are less real. I hope they have some practical effects in The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again.

But overall, I would say that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is worth it. Beneath all my criticisms, there is an entertaining film in The Hobbit. I think that Jackson will improve with his next films but I have one more problem that I would like to bring up. His multiple endings show up again. There is a battle scene that finishes up and then another starts and then that ends and then there is finally the end scene. I don't know it just bothers me. One thing you should go in thinking and knowing is that it is not Lord of the Rings (even though the narrative is very similar to The Fellowship of the Ring). If you know that, then you will enjoy the film much more. But it is entertaining and worth seeing in the theater.

THE FINAL GRADE: C+                                           (6.1/10)




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