The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – 2012

Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, James Nesbitt, Ken Stott, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Elijah Wood, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Manu Bennett, Benedict Cumberbatch, Barry Humpheries, Graham McTavish, Ken Stott
Screenplay Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens, Guillermo Del Toro, Jackson

Upon discovering that Peter Jackson were breaking the story into three parts, the wind left the sails in my wish to watch the film’s three parts.  It smelled like greed and lots of fluff.  The Lord of the Rings was bursting out the seams with story parts left on the cutting room floor. For each line of dialog that they gave to Liz “Come and claim him” Tyler, one lamented the omission of The House of Tom Bombadil and The Scouring of the Shire.  This time, they took the opposite tactic.  Rummaging through unfinished stories and appendices left over from The Return of the King, Jackson and fellow screenwriters Del Toro, Walsh and Boyens filled out non-existent gaps and provided bulk to a fighting trim story.  The fear was that it would end up feeling like a middleweight champ picking up a beer gut and fighting a heavyweight champ.  A lot of useless weight to gain just to get your butt kicked.

Starting off with an older Bilbo (Holm, carried over from LOTR) narrating a story about the dwarf kingdom located in what would eventually become Lonely Mountain, we are eventually led into the classic opening line of The Hobbit.  From here we move swiftly through the recruitment the unexpected party.  The dwarves are presented in a mixed bag,  Some look comically unreal while others look decent.  Whoever’s decision it was to give each a different ridiculous hairstyle erred in the same way George Lucas did when he tried to make different looking Ewoks.  There is a certain look that just doesn’t lend itself to action figures.

Jackson does manage to push through the introductions and the mess of Bag End with a nod to the inherent silliness of the source material.  Soon as they are on the road, we get some more background from the rest of Middle Earth, allowing the inexperienced viewer a chance to piece together this story with what is to come.  This includes the revelation of two nemeses who will loom large in time.  We also get a glimpse of Ragadast, who is shown as little more than a drugged out wizard (too many ‘shrooms, according to Lee’s Saruman).  We also see the White Wizard, Elrond (Weaving at his most accessible) and the elegantly beautiful Galadriel (Blanchett, winsome as ever) gathering with Gandalf for a council about one of the looming threats.  Gandalf (the skilful McKellen in a more humble, less enigmatic form) is subservient as he should be.  Problem is, for a man who has so much common sense the rest of the time, it’s astounding to see him bowing to the foolishness spewing forth from Saruman.  To my recollection he actually was a wise leader once.  Yes, the voice is addictive, but the elves sure seemed immune to it.  Why couldn’t one of them called B.S.?

The battles are inter-laced with bits of humor from the source material, and the special effects can be absolutely illuminating (the rock fight and the dwarf kingdom) or depressingly foolish (so many falls from astounding heights).  The whimsy with which Jackson treats his characters gives no attention to things like gravity or balance and instead concentrate on making the action scenes fast and frenetic.  The result counters some of the charm of Martin Freeman’s performance as Bilbo.  While he’s facing his Riddles in the Dark, the rest of them are undergoing the most improbable of escapes.  Just when we are in the most dramatic point in the history of Middle Earth, we are seeing an I Love Lucy skit with the fat Great Goblin and his minions.

This is not to imply that the movie is not without its charm.  The pacing is excellent, and there are few moments that ring as false or out of character, even if the character is slightly more streamlined than the book.  The dwarves, despite their plastered on look, have some depth to their characters when necessary.  Bombur is still a fat idiot, though.  Gandalf does not give you much if you did not already see him in LOTR, but he still has time.

An Unexpected Journey is good enough to start a series.  The padding does not feel like padding.  As thrilling as the prospect of The Desolation of Smaug feels, there is still 6 hours more of this stuff.  This movie helped to assuage some of the fears created watching the bloated corpulent waste that King Kong became.  Watching the shoddy battle scenes produced different concerns.  It was bad enough watching the never-ending falls in 2D, but one can only imagine how annoying it would be in 3D at 48 frames per second.

Hopefully they will take the under performing box office numbers of this first installment as a cue to take a little more time creating mood in the next film, because the battle scenes from There and Back Again loom like a Bombur on a chair with a weak leg.

(***1/2 out of *****)

Em’s Review:

What did you think?

I was really disappointed that the movie did not cover the whole book.  2 Stars.  1 Star.  Actually, 1 and 1/2.

But I told you many times that I was letting you watch it because you’ve read up to the part where the Eagles saved them, and that is where the first movie was supposed to end?  

Nobody told me that there was going to be 3 movies, Dad.  I think they wasted my time.

You’re 10 years old, and you watched the movie intently.  And I am pretty sure that I told you several times it was not the whole book.

If someone goes to the effort of making a movie, I will sit there and watch it.  I am not like Ellie, who will sit there for 3 minutes and walk away.

(Christine) Despite your feelings about not making a movie about the rest of the book, what did you think about what they did do?

I would give it 3 Stars.

I think you will like it better after reading the rest of the book and seeing the next two movies.  

How many more hours will that take?

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