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Review: 'The Hobbit': An Unexpectedly Boring Journey

By John Nicholson
On December 17, 2012

I am going to sit on a soapbox for a second so sit tight and strap it. The controversial move of shooting the Hobbit trilogy in 48 frames per second seems to have eclipsed what should have been the larger topic of online debate: why the need to create three Hobbit films in the first place.

The 48 frames per second issue should have taken a backseat to a full-fledged argument among Tolkien fans/fantasy film lovers over the stretching of one book into three films. And we're not talking three short films here either. The first HobbitThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, runs two hours and 49 minutes and should have, if the world were fair, been named The Hobbit: The Never-ending Journey. Unlike other two hour plus productions, you feel every single one of those minutes when you're sitting through The Hobbit: An Unexpectedly Boring Journey. But the 48 fps distraction shoved the three film issue into the background - which might have been just what Jackson and Warner Bros wanted.

Don't get me wrong. I came into The Hobbit screening believing I was going to be seeing one of the best films of the year. I loved all three of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies and expected to wholeheartedly embrace the first Hobbit movie. Sure, I was a bit skeptical when Jackson announced he'd added a third film to the Hobbit series. But I trusted Jackson to not only satisfy Tolkien fans with his ability to bring the source material to the screen as faithfully as possible but also to craft an entertaining movie that could be enjoyed by those who'd never picked up a Tolkien novel.

However, perhaps this time around Jackson has tilted the scale toward the hardcore fans and away from making the best movie experience possible for casual fantasy filmgoers. Jackson and co-screenwriters Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, and Guillermo del Toro bogged down The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey with so many minute/unimportant details that the pace in this - unlike his Lord of the Rings trilogy - is glacial. How many times do we need to see the motley crew of dwarves, a Hobbit (played by Martin Freeman), and Gandalf the Grey walk through valleys and forests and around hills and mountains?

Yes, the scenes do look absolutely gorgeous in 48 frames per second, but that alone is not reason enough to include them in the movie. They also felt the need to focus on the fact that Gandalf had his staff at all times, which was a small detail that was completely unneeded.

Also completely unnecessary is the inclusion of Radagast the Brown, an unkempt, crazy wizard with bird poop down his face and nothing of importance to contribute to the plot that couldn't have been summed up some other way in far, far fewer minutes. And who thought it was a good idea to include a couple of scenes of the dwarves singing? Maybe a snippet or two, but talk about annoyingly intrusive musical numbers...this is not The Hobbit: An Unexpected Musical.

Now, not everything about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey goes wrong. The dwarves are well cast and it's great to see Ian McKellen, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, and Cate Blanchett back in the world of Hobbits, elves, dwarves, and wizards. The sets are first-rate and the costumes are top notch, as you'd expect from a Peter Jackson production. The makeup however was terrible. The original makeup artist must have quit, because the age makeup was terrible and quite silly on some, and I swear if the hair line for Ian McKellen's wig was anymore obvious it would have fallen off. Now when Gollum (Andy Serkis) finally appears nine hours into the film, it's not only a welcome respite from all the walking but also a crucial scene that's well-written, shot, and acted, and a scene that effectively ups the film's pace.

The Bottom Line: If sluggish pacing and scenes that do little to further the story are what we can expect from The Hobbit 2 and The Hobbit 3, then Jackson and company have not delivered on their promises. Just because you can do three movies doesn't mean you need to do three movies, and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Hobbit: There and Back Again are going to have to live up to the work...make that surpass the work...Jackson and his team did on Lord of the Rings if they want to woo back those disillusioned after sitting through this first entry in the new franchise.

I give this train wreck 3 rings, out of 5.

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