The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

© 2013 Ray Wong

It's inevitable -- expected even -- that director Peter Jackson has brought The Hobbit to the big screen given how incredibly successful financially and critically the Lord of the Rings trilogy was. What is unexpected, however, is how Jackson decided to make it into a trilogy as well, and how tepid the final result is.

Taking off at the start of the Lord the Rings trilogy, where Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) is having his birthday party. At the same time, Bilbo is writing the story of his adventures some 60 years ago. In that story, the great wizard Gandalf (Ian KcKellen) pays Bilbo (Martin Freeman) a visit and speaks of an adventure that would be unlike anything Bilbo has ever experienced. Not interested, or so Bilbo thinks, until some uninvited guests show up at his home. These are dwarfs, led by Thorin (Richard Armitage), who have been driven out of their home by a dragon named Smaug. The dwarves are determined to fight and get back their home, but they need help. Gandalf happens to believe that Bilbo is just the right Hobbit to do the job.

Initially rejecting the idea, Bilbo is soon intrigued by the idea of a once-in-a-life-time adventure. Their journey will take them through the wild of Middle Earth, through the territories of dangerous orcs, wargs and goblins, finally to Lonely Mountain, and they have to get there at the precise time or they'd lose all possibilities of ever finding their way in. Their journey also takes them to Rivendale, the home of the ethereal Elves. The Dwarves and the Elves are not necessary on good terms either, as Thorin blames the Elves, especially the elven king Trandull (Lee Pace), for not helping them defend their home. 

As the dwarves try to escape the goblins' tunnels, Bilbo is separated from the group, and comes in contact with a strange creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis). Here, Bilbo accidentally gets hold of Gollum's "precious" ring. Little does he know how that encounter and the ring will change everything.

The huge ensemble cast is led by Ian KcKellen (X-Men: The Last Stand) who reprises his role as Gandalf. McKellen handles the character as if time hasn't passed between Return of the King and The Hobbit, but this Gandalf is younger and more unsure. Martin Freeman (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) is rather good as young Bilbo, channeling Ian Holm (who also has a cameo reprising the role) while making the character his own.

The dwarves are played, sentimentally gruff and rough, by Richard Armitage (Captain America: The First Avenger) as Thorin, Graham McTavish (Colombiana) as Dwalin, and Ken Stott (One Day) as Balin. Even though the actors are buried in layers of hair and fur, they give each dwarf a distinctive personality and it's easy to set them apart. Hugo Weaving (Cloud Atlas) and Cate Blanchett (Hanna) also reprise their elven roles as Elrond and Galabriel respectively, and Elijah Wood (Celest & Jessie Forever) has a cameo as Frodo. Andy Serkis (Tin Tin) also contributes again as Gollum via motion capture.

The screenplay adapted from J.R.R. Tolkien's timeless work is a collaboration between Peter Jackson, his team of writer, and Guillermo del Toro. The material is similar to that of the Lord of the Rings trilogy except seemingly on a smaller scale. The tone is right, and there's this whimsical aspect of it. However, in a way, it lacks certain urgency as the story is told in flashbacks, and given what we already know about the Lord of the Rings, we already know how it turns out. The stakes are not high enough, and often it feels like a introduction to Lord of the Rings instead of a story of its own right. Also, Jackson et el has turned a 300-plus-page book into a trilogy, and this one installment is almost three hours long! There is just not enough material to give it an epic treatment.

So what we have here is a lot of repetitions. Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves are constantly traveling, dodging one enemy after another, in one familiar setting after another. After a while, it feels very derivative and tiresome. The first hour of the movie also moves along in a dreadfully slow pace -- the plot doesn't move until Bilbo decides to accept the challenge. Even then, there is no sense of real adventure or high stakes, even though we're constantly reminded how dangerous it will be.

Visually stunning, as it should be, The Hobbit remains a masterfully made film in terms of technical achievements and cinematic storytelling. The visual effects are top-notch, even though some scenes do look too computerized or animated. With the advance of technology, Gollum looks and acts even more real -- between Gollum and Peter Parker in the Life of Pi, one can only imagine how incredible digital actors are going to be in the near future.

While technically a triumph, I simply can't overlook the derivative nature of the story, the pacing issue, and the repetitiveness of The Hobbit to make it enjoyable. It should have been one movie, and it should not have been 3 hours long. While it is a much anticipated prequel to the Lord of the Rings saga, how it trudges along is truly unexpected.

Stars: Ian KcKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Elijah Wood, Ian Holm, Andy Serkis
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyers, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro (based on novel by J.R.R. Tolkien)
Distributor: Warner Bros.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence and frightening images
Running Time: 169 minutes 


Script - 6
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 9
Music/Sound - 8
Editing - 8
Production - 9

Total - 7.4 out of 10.0 

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