Movie Review: The Hobbit- Peter Jackson’s Return to Middle-Earth Pales in Comparison to the Original Trilogy and Loses Itself in Drawn Out Exposition

CA.1230.the.hobbit.unexpected.Peter Jackson’s long awaited return to Middle-Earth with The Hobbit was long plagued by problems preceding his taking over of the project when director Guillermo Del Toro was originally set to direct. There was confusion as to its intended style and a steep hill of expectations after the riveting success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy so no one envied Peter Jackson’s challenge. And the introduction third of The Hobbit, secondly titled An Unexpected Journey,might be deemed an unnecessary longwinded project that saturates itself in high production value and artificial character development. Instead of being creative in the face of budget limitation Peter Jackson has become self-indulgent with triple the amount of money this time to bring us another trilogy based on a book that’s shorter than even one book of the original trilogy. Throughout this adaptation there is a drastic tonal inconsistency between childish humor and grotesque violence amidst a film that paces itself terribly drifting away from our protagonist’s central focus on numerous occasions. But even with the obvious problems there is an undeniable charm to the splendor of Middle-Earth, especially considering Jackson’s perfect casting of Martin Freeman (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Sherlock”) as our protagonist Bilbo Baggins. Middle-Earth might not seem as real this time around due to the steroid shot of special effects but the adventure is still a semi-delightful one even if equally arduous. The only real optimistic expectation that one can take from the first installment of The Hobbit is that its languid and detailed exposition might have successfully set up second and third chapters that will be far better than this one.

The legitimate prequel to The Lord of the Rings follows the charismatic hobbit Bilbo Baggins as he is practically forced out his comfortable and safe lifestyle by a convincing push by Gandalf the wizard (Ian McKellen) onto an adventure. His adventure is in the aiding of a dwarf company that intends to reclaim their mountain home from a dragon known as Smaug the Terrible. Because the book doesn’t drift away from Bilbo’s perspective there isn’t a great deal of detail relating to the dwarves or other characters Bilbo encounters along the way (such as the wizard Rattagast) yet the film feels it’s necessary to expound on these details in epic form. The main issue with doing this results in a lack of focus on the development of Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) as a character. His choices almost seem artificial especially in two essential plot points, the first being his decision to join the company in the first place. While it is alluded to by dialogue that he used to have a childhood infatuation with life outside of The Shire there is no hint of his interest or even a slight temptation to initially join the dwarves but instead in mid celebration of their disappearance he suddenly changes his mind. The next moment happens between his decision to leave the company and his change of heart after his encounter with Gollum (Andy Serkis) and though his reasoning is sound there is no actual occurrence that inspires this change of heart. His choices are not of a character that is developing naturally but almost out of pure convenience to push the plot along. It’s almost as if Peter Jackson got so infatuated himself with the possibilities of stretching out this lighthearted tale into something grander than it was ever originally imagined. In doing this tactic he might be giving us more visual wonders but loses a great deal of the character connection that was so important with The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

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Perhaps Peter Jackson allowed power to get to his head much like it did with George Lucas because there is an equal inconstancy of tone comparable to the Star Wars prequels. Throughout The Hobbit there are numerous moments of childish humor, either with the dwarves eating or a troll blowing his nose on a character or the unnecessary slapstick moments. Now add those sequences with detailed violence, including beheadings, and defenseless animals dying of poisonous deaths and you have a drastic difference in intended tone. But this observation could go unnoticed because of the plethora of action sequences that launch you into chaotic distraction. But even the action presents itself in formulaic fashion. Every single fight sequence, whether it’s the trolls or the orcs or the goblins, develops with a fury of battle, an almost hope is lost feel, and then has the deus ex machina conclusion of someone or something saving the day. Compare this to just Fellowship of the Ring where there is real danger and real sacrifice, especially with regards to Gandalf and Boromir. There is absolutely no sense of danger or cost to this journey even from the very beginning (unless you’re a defenseless animal), which is partially due to the perspective of the original text. It’s just astounding that with how much detail was invested in the little things the real big picture was arguably lost. Luckily the credible acting on all fronts get us involved in the adventure mostly due to charm rather than organic connection.

Casting Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins will be the best decision to come out of the laborious film that is The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Freeman has a natural charisma and endearing facial expressions that really makes Bilbo feel genuine in a world that becomes increasingly false due to the oversaturation of effects. The best sequence in the film is between him and the other acting master Andy Serkis returning as Gollum. While visually the riddles sequence isn’t ideal because of its unnatural brightness (in the book it’s described as incredibly dark) the character interactions make the scene incredibly fun and also has the one instance of real intimate danger though it’s fleeting. Another returning cast member is of course Ian McKellen as Gandalf and he too inspires the audience with his controlled balance of humor and wise reflection. But those are the only two returning characters of worthy note because it seems Cate Blanchett as Galadriel or Hugo Weaving as Lord Elrond are mere additions of spectacle rather than of actual plot importance. The movie wouldn’t have worked at all if the dwarves in all of their varying unique personalities weren’t tactfully delivered and they all deliver solid performances, especially Richard Armitrage as their leader Thorin. It’s a saving grace Peter Jackson has this sort of task to continue on the journey because the first installment was overly drawn out and mishandled in focus, tone, and delivery.

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One has to wonder if The Hobbit was necessary to make in the first place and after much reflection on seeing the first installment there is still a question as to its purpose of creation. Peter Jackson’s visual grandeur definitely immerses you back into the wondrous world of Middle-Earth but lost in translation is the intimate connection to the characters that is essential for success. Instead of keeping the point of view on Bilbo the film weaves in and out of perspectives and you ultimately lose grounding as to the intended lead of the story. Bilbo’s decisions are not actually organic and feel artificial for the plot’s convenience while the lack of danger in the midst of such visual extravagance is a real distraction on investing yourself in the journey. The whole process is drawn out in a sort of self-indulgent display and sacrifices a great deal of innovative creativity for special effects convenience. It seems that when a director is forced to deal with budgetary constraints they are forced to be infinitely more creative and Peter Jackson demonstrates that getting an ideal budget doesn’t equal the creation of an ideal project. The Hobbit might be charming due to our familiarity with the world already so the experience isn’t a regretful one. However, this unexpected journey now has expectations of delivery in the next two installments worthy of this film’s unnecessarily languid introduction.

Grade: C+

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