The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey-attachment0

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Movie Information

The Story: Stick-in-the-mud hobbit Bilbo Baggins allows himself to be coerced into joining a group of dwarves, along with the wizard Gandalf, to help the dwarves regain their homeland from the dragon Smaug. The Lowdown: It's longer than it needed to be and it's certainly not in the same league as the Lord of the Rings films, but The Hobbit is more entertaining than not.
Score:

Genre: Fantasy
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, James Nesbitt
Rated: PG-13

In this year of bloated movies with inflated running times, Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey feels perfectly at home. Yes, its 169-minute running time is inexcusable and the whole thing has more padding than Eddie Murphy’s Norbit fat suit. But in 2012 that seems pretty standard in terms of the theoretical heavy hitters — and these minutes move far more briskly than such overstuffed compatriots as Les Miserables, Flight, This Is 40 and, yes, Zero Dark Thirty. Frankly, I was prepared for the worst — in part, I admit, because I’m pretty much Tolkiened-out. (I have trouble even reading the character names and not rolling my eyes.) And being prepared for the worst, I was agreeably surprised. Oh, I have issues with the film (I’ll get to those), but all in all I think of it as The Hobbit: A Better Than Expected Journey.

About Jackson’s controversial use of the 48 frames-per-second (twice the normal speed) approach, I can’t say for sure since I only saw it at 24 fps — though that presumably retains some of the enhanced sharpness, and it may account for some of the film’s less delightful aspects where crepe-hair and putty are a little more obvious than they should be. I can, however, say that there is way too much time expended on cramming 13 dwarves into Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) hobbit hole (there must be another way of phrasing that). I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if one of the later arrivals had stuck his head in and asked, “Is my Aunt Minnie in here?” (Come on, at least some of you will get that!) The resultant dwarf eating, guzzling, belching, singing and general knockabout could have done with some serious pruning. (And, no, I don’t buy the idea that it has to do with character development since the characters are never developed.) Similarly, there’s a later sequence involving three trolls — that might as well be named Moe, Larry and Curly — that could have been cut out of the movie altogether.

Other aspects of the film feel a bit like Peter Jackson’s Greatest Hits revisited. The trip to where the elves live — Maxfield Parrish Land or whatever it’s called — seems mostly like an excuse for Hugo Weaving as Elrond (is his last name Hubbard?), Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Christopher Lee as the pre-evil Saruman to pop up, but I can’t say I minded it in the least. It might also be noted that it adds a little weight to the otherwise fairly slim story — and its often even slimmer characterizations. Apart from Bilbo and Ian McKellen’s Gandalf (who is, like the aforementioned trio, already established), there’s not really much characterization. The king dwarf, Thorin (Brit TV actor Richard Armitage), is just mostly sullen and ill-tempered. Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) — and his rabbit-powered sled — is an amusing (and apparently magic mushroom-addled) addition, but most of the film’s new characters are just sort of there — though effective enough.

The question is whether or not this needed to be stretched out into three movies — apart from milking the Tolkien cow for all it’s worth. ( It probably didn’t.) But it’s been done, and it’s been done much better than I could have imagined — at least in its first installment. Yeah, it aims for the kind of emotional kick at the end like the one in Fellowship of the Ring and it falls short because it hasn’t really earned it. And its final image certainly holds a lot less dread than the one in that film, but this is carping. Did I have a good time watching it? Yes. Did I think it was too long? Yes. Could I understand more than half of what Gollum (Andy Serkis) said? No, but that’s nothing new. All in all, any movie that reveals that Gandalf knows how to play Whackbat is hard to dislike. Rated PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images.

Playing at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Co-Ed Cinema of Brevard, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher Cinema 7

 

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

17 thoughts on “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

  1. Xanadon't

    All in all, any movie that reveals that Gandalf knows how to play Whackbat is hard to dislike.

    Did you happen to catch how many score-downs were recorded before the umpire called “Hotbox!”? Divide by 9 of course before tallying your final score.

  2. Jeremy Dylan

    I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if one of the later arrivals had stuck his head in and asked, “Is my Aunt Minnie in here?”

    Well, you can come in and prowl around if you wanna. If she isn’t in here, you can probably find somebody just as good.

    • Jeremy Dylan

      Use the phone?! I’ll lay ya even money you can’t get in the room! This boat will be in New York before you can get to that phone…

  3. Vince Lugo

    The Hobbit has always been my favorite novel since I first read it, and while the film isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, I was, at the very least, satisfied with it. I was unsure about the decision to try and stretch it to three films, but when it got to the meeting scene between Gandalf, Elrond, et al and I saw where Peter Jackson was going with this, that’s when the movie “clicked” for me and made me want to see the other two parts.

    Also, I greatly enjoyed the snatches of songs throughout the film in which they put some of Tolkein’s poems to music. This is something I felt was missing from the LOTR trilogy and it was nice to see it here.

    As a side note,if you can find it, I highly recommend checking out the Rankin/Bass animated version of The Hobbit. It retains most of the story (minus a couple of subplots) and clocks in at 80 minutes. Those of you who feel the new film is too long might get something out of this version.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Use the phone?! I’ll lay ya even money you can’t get in the room! This boat will be in New York before you can get to that phone…

    I knew you had it in you.

  5. Ken Hanke

    Just the woman I’m looking for. You’ll have to start on the ceiling, it’s the only place that isn’t being occupied.

  6. DrSerizawa

    I’m curious to see how much screentime they give Radagast since his entire existence in the entire written series (all 4 books) takes up about 3 lines of prose.

  7. though that presumably retains some of the enhanced sharpness, and it may account for some of the film–Ęs less delightful aspects where crepe-hair and putty are a little more obvious than they should be.

    I think that has more to do with the unfortunate decision to shoot the picture digitally on RED cameras, rather than Super 35 Kodak film.

    It gives the movie somewhat of a CGI look all over, even on the actors’ faces.

  8. jakewestwn

    I must admit I was sold on the bunny-powered sled.

    Seeing as the kind of horror movies I like are rare or dead all together-movies with ghost, vampires or yes escaped experiment, I must be content with my two other loves Fantasy and “weird mind altering movies.”
    The Lord of the Rings The Hobbit,Alice in Wonder Land satisfy me a lot as far as Fantasy goes and movies like Inception, What Dreams May Come and The Matrix (I only liked the first one.) are great other reality type films.

    But alas how I miss horror when it was more about having fun while being scared-though rare gems like The Grave Dancers do come along but not often, I will continue to be content with my other two theater joys while hoping Hollywood will burn it’s self out and get over torture porn. Until then, I look forward to seeing the next Hobbit or the next “Cloud Atlas” type movie.

  9. Ken Hanke

    I must admit I was sold on the bunny-powered sled.

    As who is not?

  10. DrSerizawa

    In a fantasy world anything is possible so there’s absolutely no excuse for Jackson having omitted a stampede of monkeys.

  11. Ken Hanke

    That would, I assure you, have earned an extra half-star from me at a bare minimum.

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