Thursday, December 13, 2012

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' is unexpectedly boring


Between 2001 and 2003, Peter Jackson managed to emerge successful out of the titanic task of turning J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings into a live-action movie trilogy. Jackson made billions of dollars, won three Academy Awards and captivated audiences all around the world (not to mention he blew my 10-year-old mind). The Lord of the Rings films are not only a pinnacle of the fantasy genre, but also a milestone in hollywood film history that has influenced the moviegoing landscape more than any other film released in the past decade. 

Almost ten years after the last movie in the trilogy, Peter Jackson has gone back to Middle Earth to adapt another beloved Tolkien volume. But we were suspicious. Whereas The Lord of the Rings is way more than 1000 pages long, The Hobbit is a rather tiny book; so it came as a big surprise when Jackson announced that he was going to adapt the little Hobbit into three films. And not only that, but the first of this new trilogy is almost three hours long. So the question on everybody's mind is whether Peter Jackson has so much to say about Middle Earth and the story of The Hobbit to fill another nine hours of film. The answer is no. 

Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins, who is convinced by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to take part in an adventure to help a group of dwarves reclaim their homeland from a nasty dragon. Freeman is quite funny and charming as Bilbo, but the film doesn't help him very much. The Hobbit is, and feels, incredibly overlong. It wastes way too much time with framing devices and extended flashbacks that don't add anything to the story. It takes so much time to get the story going, by the time our hero was departing on his quest, I had already tuned out. It also doesn't help that a lot of the material was made up by Jackson and his team of writers in order to get enough material for three movies. We expect so many detours during this Unexpected Journey that we lose track of the characters we are supposed to care about. 

The film's biggest flaw is that it isn't successful at presenting the character arcs for our heroes. We get a lot of backstory on dwarf leader Thorin (Richard Armitage) and an emotional arc for Bilbo, but we never quite feel the emotion necessary for them to work. The Hobbit, is not as epic and dark as The Lord of the Rings; it has always been regarded more as a children's book and it shows in the characterization of these adventurers. Jackson wants everything to feel far more epic and high-stakes than it actually is. The prolonged dramatic scenes don't work because we don't have the character backstory or the developed relationships we got in The Lord of the Rings. There is nothing that comes close to the bond between Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin or Aragorn and Arwen. This story is supposed to tell how the great friendship between Bilbo and Gandalf started, but we the relationship between them was better presented in the first ten minutes of Fellowship of the Ring than in almost three hors of this film. 

There is also the matter of the humor. The Lord of the Rings was a very epic tale, but it felt especially refreshing because it always featured a healthy dose of humor. The Hobbit is also very humorous, but it's idea of "funny" seems to be anything involving burps, pratfalls or any kind of body fluid. You can forget about the clever and solemn attitude of the previous films once there's a joke about hitting a troll in the nuts.

To be fair, there is one very good sequence in the film in which Bilbo and Gollum (Andy Serkis) meet each other for the first time. But more than anything, The Hobbit made me sad. Here was an opportunity to revisit Middle-Earth and tell a nice, adventurous, fun story in glorious fashion by translating the spirit of the original book. Instead, we get an elongated movie which at the end of the day is just a very long, very boring experience. And that is the biggest crime of all, that I went back to Middle Earth and couldn't find anything entertaining. 

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