‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ Movie Review – A Dangerous Pace
Somewhere, Gandalf says something along the lines of “every good story could use elaboration.” I really wish I’d remembered the exact quote, but this line nails what Peter Jackson was going for in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Based on a book roughly the size of each J.R.R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings novels, Jackson has decided to stretch it into three movies. Using a similar pace but far less source material, The Hobbit comes dangerously close to becoming disappointing. Thanks to some revered performances and a more action-packed final hour, the experience is still worth having.
Roughly covering the first third of the novel, the story is supposed to be about Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), a seemingly “normal” hobbit, and his quest to uncover a very large treasure buried within the Lonely Mountain. The problem, though, is that a gigantic, fire-breathing dragon resides within the treasure. Armed with thirteen warrior dwarves, and one epic wizard, Gandalf (Ian McKellen), the team sets out.
While the entire story isn’t even close to being finished, the group encounters quite the circumstances when trying to reach the treasure. This includes all the fantasy folklore you can imagine, from elves to orcs…
And, of course, one poor, decrepit Gollum (Andy Serkis) and his almighty ring.
Coming off the success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit has been in the works for quite some time, churning up the anticipation. With great success comes great expectations, and that could ultimately be its undoing. When you consider the source material, An Unexpected Journey has to be a “set-up” movie. Like any story, the “good” stuff comes at the end. I want to say it’s almost unavoidable.
Still, with The Lord of the Rings, they ignored this principle of “set-up” by delivering a magnificent first film. They did have a prequel book, yes, but they still had to establish all the characters, conflicts, and so on. However, The Hobbit doesn’t particularly have this luxury because there’s simply not enough story for three movies. It tries its hardest to bridge the gap, something I thoroughly enjoyed, but it still feels too drawn out.
There’s no particular reason the film should drag almost three hours. It is nice that Jackson continued the “mythos” from one trilogy to the next, sometimes adding characters or plots that weren’t existent before, but even the most hardcore fan should agree it feels a bit bloated.
Another thing that bothered me was the story’s main focus. It’s one thing to mix and match the particular details of a story, but it’s another thing entirely to change the main conflict. I was led to believe this would be Bilbo’s story. While he still is the “main character” per se, I don’t think his story was fully embraced and told like I expected. Instead, a lot of focus is put on the dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage). I understand it (to a degree) because he’s the real connection to the treasure, but the story is called The Hobbit for a reason.
Still, there are certain things I can’t deny. One of which was how awesome Gandalf and Gollum both were. Bilbo, too, is on his way to reaching an elite status. However, Gandalf and Gollum both stole the movie with the two best scenes in my opinion. McKellen and Serkis are to thank for this.
Lastly, I feel obliged to spend a bit of time talking about the visuals. I opted to see the film in the unprecedented 48 frames-per-second (fps). The High Frame Rate came off a lot like those TVs with higher refresh rates. For those that know what I’m talking about, it’s sometimes referred to as the “soap opera” effect because the foreground seems to move at a different rate than the background. I personally got used to the “different” appeal, but I understand how it would be distracting. Be warned, the 48 fps screenings will add a new aspect to the viewing experience, and that aspect may be distracting.
So, I’m still torn. Having freshly finished the book and recently re-watched The Fellowship of the Ring, I was hoping for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey to start the new trilogy off on the right foot. After the first half, I was more skeptical than ever. When the action picks up and, more specifically, when Gollum makes his stunning return, it makes up for the lost time. I still have certain reservations about the pacing (and some of the added content), but I’m willing to look the other way because…well Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth is so damn fun to embrace.
Make sure to buy your tickets early and hopefully catch it this weekend.
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