Movie Review: The Hobbit (2012)
Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Martin Freeman, Sir Ian McKellan, Ian Holm, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Elijah Wood
When Peter Jackson turned J.R.R. Tolkien's epic Lord of the Rings series into a brilliant and sprawling film trilogy, the running time for all three films combined exceeded 9 hours (12, if you count the extended versions released on DVD). What may have seemed like a bloated length was, in fact, perfectly justified. Tolkien's source material spanned 1200 pages, and director Peter Jackson did such a splendid job in telling a story with so many layers so fluently and poignantly that, in spite of their length, there was not a moment in any of those films that felt arbitrary or wasted.
In contrast, Tolkien told the story in The Hobbit in a brisk 300 pages. A prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it told a fairly simply adventure story. The quest at the heart of The Hobbit was not as epic as the one in The Lord of the Rings. I feel like Tolkien understood this. That is why he managed to tell The Hobbit's story in a single book, and why The Lord of the Rings took three books. So when director Peter Jackson announced that his adaptation of The Hobbit would result in another trilogy, each of them lasting nearly three hours each, my heart sank. There's just no reason to have the story drag out that long. Having recently re-read (over half) the book, I could see two films being made. But three?
It just sounded like a marketing trick to me, and having finally seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, my mind hasn't changed. The film is by no means a bad film. The visuals are as stunning as ever (and I saw the film in 24fps, not 48). The action scenes are entertaining. And the movie features an unquestionably strong performance from Martin Freeman, who makes Bilbo into a compelling figure, even when the screenplay fails to do so. And therein lies the problem: The screenplay. Written by Jackson, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo Del Toro, the movie feels lethargic and curiously thin. The characters seldom ever engage our interests, and the story takes oh so long to find its footing that one might find themselves checking their watches early on.
This is especially true of the film's prologue, which shows an elderly Bilbo (once again played by Ian Holm) writing of his adventures with the dwarves to Frodo. We get some backstory for the dwarves. We see them in their prime in the mines of the Lonely Mountain. We see their kingdom destroyed when the villainous dragon Smaug invades for their gold. We learn that dwarf prince Thorin (Richard Armitage) worked several jobs in human cities before vowing to take his kingdom back with his army of 12. “This is where I come in,” Bilbo says in voice over.
So far, so good. The mines of the Lonely Mountain are a marvel of art direction and production design, and the few special-effects used during the dragon attack are splendidly done. When Bilbo says this is where he enters the story, you'd expect Jackson to actually start his story with the dwarves, but Jackson lets the sequence drag out as Frodo (Elijah Wood) makes a cameo appearance, tries reading Bilbo's text, goes outside and checks the mail, nails a sign on Bilbo's gate, etc. I don't mind that Jackson gave Frodo a cameo. What would have worked better is if he had saved it for the end of the third film. That way, it would lead right into the trilogy. By crowbarring the cameo unnecessarily into the beginning here, he drags things out a lot longer than he should.
Once the prologue ends and things finally get going, the story finally starts. Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellan, good as always) has led Thorin and his men to Bilbo's front door. Unbeknownst to Bilbo, Gandalf has enlisted him in Thorin's quest to take back his kingdom from Smaug. This sequence, which is what starts the book, is not very well handled. In the book Tolkien hinted that the adventurous Took in Bilbo is intrigued about joining Thorin's quest. When Thorin and the other dwarves sang their song that evening, Tolkien writes that “something Tookish woke up inside him, and he wished to go and see the great mountains....and wear a sword instead of a walking stick.” In the movie, he doesn't seem to be even sort of interested in going on an adventure. He feels that way the entire night the dwarves are in his abode. It isn't until he wakes the next morning and sees his contract with the dwarves on his kitchen table that he decides, rather abruptly, to run out of his house and join Thorin and his men. The movie doesn't develop Bilbo very well, and were it not for Freeman's solid turn, I dare say he might have come across as rather dull.
The rest of the movie is pretty much just a series of action and special-effects. This is not a complaint, mind you, as Jackson is so good in creating the spectacle that you're bound to forgive the fact that there's very little substance to accompany it. The lands of Middle Earth are just as fully realized and gorgeously rendered here as they were in the previous films. The quick detour our heroes make in Rivendell is good for some eye-catching special-effects. A sequence where Bilbo and the dwarves face off against a trio of idiot trolls is especially entertaining. And the highlight of the film is a scene where Bilbo engages in a riddle contest with Gollum (Andy Serkis) after getting separated from the others during one of their many adventures.
Jackson also includes a menacing figure, an orc named Azog the Desecrator (Manu Bennett) who hunts our heroes over the course of the film, and has a personal score to settle with Thorin. Bennett turns in a menacing performance, and the make-up effects used to create him are quite frightening. Faring less well is Sylvester McCoy's turn as the goofy wizard Radagast the Brown, who is introduced performing CPR on a hedgehog and generally brings the movie to a halt every time he's on screen. Excise his character from the movie, and it might have moved at a quicker pace.
Certainly, more time could have been given to developing the dwarves who accompany Bilbo on the quest. Granted there are, what, thirteen dwarves on the journey? It would be impossible to give each of them their own personal backstory. The problem is that none of them engage our interests in any way, shape, or form. Their personalities are so flat that there are instances where some of them become indistinguishable from one another. Even the leader Thorin, who is given the most backstory, comes across as a bland figure. He's not heroic, and he's not charismatic. In Jackson's hands, he comes across as a generic action movie figure.
Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I saw this film, or maybe I set my expectations so high that I was bound to be disappointed. Maybe a revisit will help me see this film in a much more positive light, or maybe when the trilogy reaches its end come 2014, it'll be easier to appreciate some of the story decisions Jackson and his team make here. No doubt many people who will go and see this film will just be happy to return to Middle Earth once more, and to see some familiar faces as well (Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, and Christopher Lee make cameo appearances here). Some might even think it a worthy addition to Jackson's original trilogy. Yet in spite of Freeman's solid turn and some visually splendid moments, I, personally, just didn't care for The Hobbit. There isn't enough substance to justify its bloated length, and thus, not enough to hold ones interest for the duration of the film.
** ½ out of (****)
What were your thoughts on this film? :)
Other Thoughts on The Hobbit
- Movie Review: The Hobbit "An Unexpected Journey" (2012)
- The Hobbit Movie: A Review from a Tolkien Fan
A spoiler-free review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey from a lifelong fan of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. First impressions on the film's opening day in the U.S.
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie Review
The film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was released in theaters everywhere on Decemeber 14, 2012. Here is the review of the movie that has fans wiggling with excitement all over the western world.
- The Hobbit: Movie Review