I was surprised to see how little fanfare surrounded the release of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit. Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was a monster hit bridging the gap between fans of the book and those that just enjoy good movies. Tons of accolades and awards later, rumors began to swirl that J.R.R. Tolkien’s prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy – The Hobbit – would be adapted for the big screen.
Months and months past and the internet circles swirled with rumors and speculation. Many directors were attached to the project at one time including Guillermo Del Toro, but after settling a legal dispute with the studio, Jackson announced that he himself would take behind the camera for not one, but three movies that would stretch the shorter Tolkien story into a 9-hour series of films.
But even upon the announcement, there was little jumping up and down from even fans of the original series. And we could make a strong argument that other films such as The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers were met with faster heartbeats and sweatier palms in excitement of their release.
But here we were, December 14th, 2012. The release date for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. And although the atmosphere inside the theatre was hardly electric, it was sold out. And 30-minutes later, the lights went dim and Jackson’s 2-year effort was put on display.
The opening scenes of The Hobbit start with the backstory of how a city of Dwarves had their home – a place called the Lonely Mountain – stolen from them by a dragon named Smaug. Well, a dragon and a poop load of Orc’s, which also played a part in their displacement. Some action ensues, and then we are immediately transported to the calmer setting of The Shire where we meet Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) alongside familiar faces Gandolf (Ian McKellan) and Frodo (Elijah Wood).
After some long banter, we learn that Gandolf is looking to recruit Bilbo for an adventure that will include a group of Dwarves that arrive at Bilbo’s door with appetites intact. Bilbo is reluctant, but soon accepts his role and …voila – the story moves forward.
For the remaining 139 minutes of the 169-minute runtime, Gandolf and his group of Dwarves will travel great distances, fight impossible odds, meet interesting creatures, defy death and ultimately come out of the peril relatively unscathed.
Sound boring? Well, it kinda was. If not boring, it surely was just an extension of the Lord of the Rings movies, and that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Jackson’s look and feel to The Hobbit is exactly the same as it was with his three movie masterpiece which concluded in 2003. And after watching 10 hours of hobbits, dwarves, elves and otherwise fight the good fight on their way to Mount Doom, it would have been refreshing to see a different look to the prequel. Instead, we get the parade of single file lines of our heroes marching while Jackson pans the camera from above over the landscape.
We get more action in The Hobbit that we did in the first Lord of the Rings film, but it has all been done before. And done better, I might add. The fight sequences in The Hobbit looked recycled. Surely, 9 years after the last Lord of the Rings movie, technology would have allowed for us to at least try something new on a grander scale. Instead, the action (which is more cartoonish, I might add), just looks like lesser battles from the original trilogy.
But the action is hardly the center of The Hobbits problems. The characters in The Hobbit do nothing to endear themselves to the audience. I couldn’t name a single one of them just 30 minutes after the screening and I could hardly care if any of them made it out of their individual predicaments alive. Some gave speeches, others are just there for comic relief – comic relief that didn’t work on any attempt.
There were two highlights in the film. The first came with a battle between rock monsters. It did nothing to progress the plot, but the special effects were exceptional and I could have sat through another 5+ minutes of their battle.
The second highlight came with the introduction to Gollum. The character played by Andy Serkis is crisper and clear than he was 9 years ago, but his scenes ran on far too long and none of my accompanying party understood more than half of what he was saying.
The resulting film ends up being a disappointment. Not a failure. We are not using The Hobbit and The Phantom Menace in the same sentence. But it didn’t deliver the adrenaline and excitement of the adventure that the Lord of the Rings trilogy handled so seamlessly. So we meet it halfway and give it a 2.5 out of 5. If this is going to be the worst film of the soon to be 6-movie set, then Jackson has done wonders. But if The Hobbit is the new norm, we would rather not go back to the Shire again.