‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012): Well, it’s a (long) start

Martin Freeman, as Bilbo Baggins, is shown in a scene from "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

Martin Freeman, as Bilbo Baggins, is shown in a scene from “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.” (Photo credit: Warner Bros.)

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Editor’s note: This review first ran Dec. 12, 2013.

‘The Hobbit’ takes us on a long, long, long journey (kind of)

Wow, that took forrrrrrrever. And for what? Beats me.

After watching “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the latest cinematic version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic fantasy adventure, I’m just exhausted. All that high-octane action and 3-D/48-frames-per-second shooting and digital effects and countless battles just leave you winded rather than in wonder. You kind of get the feeling director Peter Jackson created a film sating his own desires rather than the audience’s.

Still, anyone who has a passing fascination with either Jackson or the books from which this movie is based will find something to enjoy — though no one anywhere will appreciate the nearly three-hour run time. That’s far too long for far too little of significance to happen.

In “The Hobbit,” we’re taken to 60 years before the start of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. The first in another ambitious trilogy, we find ourselves in the Shire following Bilbo Baggins (an enjoyable enough Martin Freeman) who quickly is embroiled in adventure thanks to wizard Gandalf the Grey (a mischievous Ian McKellen). Along for their epic quest are 13 dwarves, led by warrior Thorin Oakenshield.

The quest: to recapture the dwarves’ home of Erebor, a mountain lost to the dragon Smaug. For those who know hobbits, you’re aware hobbits aren’t exactly known for their epic questing. (A scene with an older Bilbo and Frodo (Elijah Wood) quickly reminds us of this. It also serves as a connector between the two trilogies.)

Hardly surprising for a Tolkien epic, character development and portrayal is paramount. In Bilbo, Martin gives us a character almost bipolar in nature: He’s friendly, but seems to be a loner by nature. He’s entirely not OK with embarking on what may be a one-way adventure, but he comes across as able of helping the group. You can’t blame dwarf warrior Thorin (Richard Armitage) for having doubts about Bilbo, but then you’re not surprised when Bilbo proves his mettle time and again.

Not that we don’t have our suspicions of the son of dwarf kings. His story seems sympathetic, but you never find yourself empathizing with this gruff prince.

Plenty of violence will meet your straining eyes, though most of it would be considered sanitized by today’s standards. Graphic actions, however, are less so: Decapitations and piercings happens with surprising regularity (which runs counter to the movie’s PG-13 rating). Then again, the sheer amount of battles is quickly becoming a staple of this series. (Remember “Return on the King”?)

Not that the realm of Middle-earth was supposed to be all gumdrops and happiness. But there’s a stark difference between the violence you find in a novel, controlled and slowly unleashed, compared to the in-your-face chaos film directors tend to favor.

Speaking of director’s choices, “The Hobbit” was shot in 3-D at a higher FPS rate (48 versus 24). The effect ranges from distracting to impressing, but the lack of consistency and blending between the filming and set pieces is jarring.

But don’t let this deter you from the film. It definitely has its moments. Most memorable: three trolls who can only be described as The Three Stooges and the woodland wizard Radagst the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), whose manic yet endearing personality is highlighted when he tries to revive a wounded hedgehog.

But stealing the show, yet again, is that terrifyingly mesmerizing creature Gollum (Andy Serkis). During “The Hobbit” is when Bilbo fits meets this life-altering character, and Serkis does him justice once more. No one has done more for motion-capture work than Serkis and his Gollum, and it shows in the stark emotions portrayed by Gollum when he loses his “precious.” The look on his face is captivating, and more than a bit disturbing.

Still, there just aren’t enough of these moments and characters to make up for what amounts to three hours of exposition. Yes, we know it’s supposed to lay the groundwork for future installments in the series, but that’s hardly a valid excuse. I guess you can start out a trilogy that way; I wouldn’t have recommended it.

Three questing stars out of five.

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2 responses to “‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (2012): Well, it’s a (long) start

  1. Pingback: ‘The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug’ (2013) review: Halfway there (kind of) | Silver Screening·

  2. Pingback: ‘The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies’ (2014) review: Back again, for the last time | Silver Screening Reviews·

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