The main thing you need to know about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is that it is long. I mean real long. Like 15 minutes shy of 3 hours long. Like, make sure you go to the bathroom before you find your seat and then make sure you go again right before the last preview ends kind of long. That’s how long it is. And that’s a bit of a shame considering the source material is not as bloated as this film seems to make it.
But let’s back up a bit.
Returning to the land of Middle-Earth, visionary director and producer Peter Jackson has once again taken the helm and worked his film magic to bring us another chapter in the J.R.R. Tolkien library of legend. Almost 10 years have past – yet seems less with the expanded DVDs, Bluray and return to theaters that the epic Lord of the Rings trilogy has earned – and luckily (and near immediately) audiences will be swept right back into the nostalgia those films created. Which is great for the success of the film, but bad because it may have turned the overall focus of the tale in the wrong direction.
Acted extremely well, shot just as beautifully as almost every film Jackson has developed and with an extremely high production-value, The Hobbit’s only two downfalls is its choice to fatten up the source material into three films and it’s sometimes too familiar choices in storytelling.
Beginning with the wealth of the great Dwarf kingdom Erebor, through the destruction that the dragon Smaug brings and the journey of one Hobbit and his strange band of forgettable dwarfs, The Hobbit is the first in a set of three films (yet one book … one 276 + or -) that will tell Bilbo Baggins’ (played by an always fantastic Martin Freeman) amazing story of how he, an insignificant creature, would change the balance of his world.
Bringing back some of the original cast and reengaging the audience with familiarity, The Hobbit succeeds in making the audience feel like this is the same Middle-Earth that we have experienced before. The highly emotional music, rousing sword fights and gruesome monsters of the land are all there and honestly, I loved it.
It wasn’t until after the film was over that I realized, “wait a minute?!”
Pulling the source material like a rubber band that has lost its elasticity, The Hobbit begins to fall short in that it loses its main purpose. Instead of focusing on Bilbo and his personal, introverted journey against a cast of extroverted adventurers (?), we are given the grand Fellowship-type saga that shows off the huge landscape of the world more than the personal, small story that the Hobbit represents. It’s Bilbo’s lack of confidence and his personal sense of insignificance versus his later blossoming that is inspiring. Like layers of an onion, the world opens up to Bilbo during this journey and yet, since we’ve been here already, we lose that sense of discovery.
Along with that, we are told, time and time again, that he is small, the world is large and, like an echo from Lord of the Rings, how he as a Hobbit can’t do this or that because they (Hobbits) are cowardly creatures. It becomes a wasted argument in the end, because, less we forget, these dwarfs and Gandalf showed up at Bilbo’s door and told him they needed him … not the other way around.
At the same time, while clearly a fan favorite and nearly the most popular of all the Lord of the Rings characters, the film at times feels more like Gandalf’s (played once again by the excellent Ian McKellen) story or, in contrast, more about Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage.) It’s a difficult balance to find, but none-the-less, this is called The Hobbit.
Of course that is until we get to meet our old friend Gollum.
Short of giving any details away, this scene between Bilbo and Gollum is truly epic and honestly the linchpin that keeps this film together. Luckily, it is acted, shot and edited so well, that fans will be mesmerized.
Overall, I think fans will eat this up and ask for seconds. The Hobbit has everything that audiences will expect. Fantastic sets, smart dialogue and truly invested actors make this feel and interact with the previous films with ease. Expanding the giant world and bringing us back to known places help in keeping fans engaged even against the just as monstrous running time. Those not as familiar with the book will have no problem with the additions/changes and probably find those critiques from overly familiar nerds a bit irritating, however, there is no denying that the upcoming films need to be tightened up quite a bit. Even with its downfalls, it is still as high quality a film as we would expect from Jackson and company, but after some inspection, a notch down from the standard that Return of the King set.
Of course, I also have to quickly address the choice to film this movie at 48 frames per second versus the regular 24 – something that most movie goers will care nothing about. It doesn’t matter. Like it or not, it makes this film the clearest 3D I have every seen and while, yes, it does reveal a few flaws in production, it’s like watching real life on a screen. Is it odd? Yes. At times does it remind you of old BBC or soap opera television … possibly. But as a first step in delivering a new technology to movie screens, I think it worked fine and could, like everything use some improvement.
Extremely expected and a bit too long for a film about people walking, I still enjoyed it so far.
4 out of 5 Riddles in the Dark