Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

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Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) Mark Leeper 12/16/12 9:35 AM
              THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY
               (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

    CAPSULE: THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is the first
    film of Peter Jackson's follow-up trilogy to THE LORD
    OF THE RINGS.  The result is good, where great was
    expected.  It has a lot of the virtues of the previous
    films, but does not offer a lot that the previous trilogy
    did not, and where it does try to be different it goes
    off in the wrong direction.  Falling well short of being
    compelling, at times it really drags.  Jackson makes the
    serious error of expecting that Tolkein's short novel
    provides enough material to make into its own trilogy
    nearly as long as LORD OF THE RINGS.  Visually it is
    sometimes amazing, but it is a large troll step down from
    the last trilogy.  Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10

Back in the 1960s I knew that there were two books about Middle
Earth by J. R. R. Tolkein.  There was the little one which was
basically a children's story called THE HOBBIT.  The big one was
THE LORD OF THE RINGS.  It was so big that the publisher trisected
it into three volumes.  Peter Jackson eventually filmed THE LORD OF
THE RINGS in a trilogy of three long movies.  He did a good job.  
Now he is adapting the little book and with about the same degree
of compression it should make one short movie.  But THE LORD OF THE
RINGS was so profitable as three big films Jackson is doing THE
HOBBIT in the same way.  It strikes me as overkill.  I can say that
I am not yet seeing the public enthusiasm for Jackson's "Hobbit"
trilogy that I saw for his "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.  With KING
KONG he showed an unfortunate propensity to go overboard damaging
what I still think was a good effort.

The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy was a triumph, with Jackson giving
the film a beautiful look worthy of some of the best fantasy
illustrators' visualizations of Middle Earth.  The writing was
imperfect, but the viewer was awed by the images put on the screen.  
That was certainly an accomplishment and it was accomplished.  But
it cannot be accomplished again but can only be repeated.  A
repetition is very much what THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is.  
It is a look at Middle Earth using the same tools that Jackson used
to do the first trilogy.  The problems with the film in large part
come from the need to stretch the short novel over three films and
the resulting story suffers from the stretch marks.

The plot of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is, of course, in
large part taken from the book by Tolkein.  Bilbo (played by Martin
Freeman, Watson in the popular series "Sherlock") wants nothing
more than to sit home in comfort.  But Galdalf (Sir Ian McKellen)
inveigles him in a plan to travel east with thirteen dwarves on a
mission to retrieve a great gold treasure that has been stolen by
the formidable dragon Smaug.  What follows is a series of
adventures and battles with fearsome wolves, trolls, and orcs as
the band travel to Rivendell and the mountains beyond.

There are times the plot stands still for comedy or when the
dwarves all join together in a song that really does not further
the story.  And too much of the film is taken up with CGI fights.  
But the trilogy will probably cover more than eight hours--longer
than it takes to read the book--and that time has to be filled
somehow.  Much of the problem is that the script does not give us
any compelling reason to care for the main characters.  The mission
is to retrieve gold, a much more mercenary purpose than destroying
a ring that gives dangerously too much power.  Also, the characters
are not greatly likeable--in fact, we do not know them at all well.  
Even Bilbo is only superficially drawn with a few humorous quirks
but no real personality.  So battles with armies of thousands
fighting each other have less emotional impact than a dinner table
argument between two people in THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL.  
Even great computer graphics effects cannot for long substitute for
under-written characters.  All the action and violence does not
matter if the viewer does not care about who has a dog on the
fight.

This is not to say that there is not a great deal impressive in the
visual imagery.  First you have stunning settings mostly provided
by New Zealand.  And you have a lot of fairly creative visual
effects.  In some cases the images presented are just too much and
too complex to be taken in on one viewing.  With action all over
the screen, it cannot all be seen without some study.  This film
offers more visual effects, but not a lot that is creatively new.  
Some images, like the stone giants, are particularly effective.  
But this film needed to offer the viewer more than just more
effects.

As with the pod race of STAR WARS I, sequences intended to be
amusing can destroy much of the feel of the film.  At one point we
see our heroes using a cable slide.  That allows the film to have a
great swooping shot.  The only problem is that we have never been
given any clue that Middle Earth is at a technology level where
cable production is possible.  If they have the knowledge to
produce cable it would have a big impact on the rest of their
technology.  If they can produce cables they almost certainly can
produce more effective weapons.  At some point someone mentions
"chips" as food.  In the first trilogy the hobbits smoked "pipe
weed" because Tolkien did not want to use the overly familiar word
"tobacco."  Various places in the story people fall hundreds of
feet to rocks below them and seem to survive.  The original trilogy
was much more careful about such things and here they ruin the
credibility of the story.

This film is a very mixed bag of good touches and bad ones.  I am
mostly trying to cover what others are not saying about the film.  
Those are mostly faults.  This film does not have the writing that
THE LORD OF THE RINGS had.  THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY is an
unexpected step down from LORD OF THE RINGS.  I rate it a high +1
on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.

Film Credits: <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0903624/>

What others are saying:
<http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_hobbit_an_unexpected_journey/>


                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        mle...@optonline.net
                                        Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper
Re: Review: The Hobbit: Leeper screws the pooch Mark Leeper 12/19/12 2:45 PM
The writer's name is Tolkien NOT Tolkein.  Sorry

-- Mark
Re: Review: The Hobbit: Leeper screws the pooch moviePig 12/19/12 3:13 PM
On Dec 19, 5:45 pm, Mark Leeper <mlee...@optonline.net> wrote:
> The writer's name is Tolkien NOT Tolkein.  Sorry

A tokien error...

--

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Re: Review: The Hobbit: Leeper screws the pooch nick 12/19/12 6:11 PM
On Dec 19, 6:13 pm, moviePig <pwall...@moviepig.com> wrote:
> On Dec 19, 5:45 pm, Mark Leeper <mlee...@optonline.net> wrote:
>
> > The writer's name is Tolkien NOT Tolkein.  Sorry
>
> A tokien error...
>
Too much tokin', not enough proofreadin'.